A crowd chanted outside an auditorium at Bellevue College Tuesday, where the Washington Supreme Court heard arguments in the case of a gay couple suing a Richland florist that refused to do business with them.
The case was one of three the justices heard during a traveling open forum before a gathering of students, faculty, and observers.
Curt Freed and Robert Ingersoll sued Arlene’s Flowers in 2013 after owner Barronelle Stutzman declined to provide flowers for the couple’s wedding, citing her religious beliefs.
At issue is whether Stutzman’s refusal violates the Washington Law Against Discrimination and the Consumer Protection Act. A lower court ruled last year that Stutzman violated state law. The florist appealed, and now the case is before Washington’s highest court.
Justices questioned lawyers for more than an hour, comparing the case to others involving civil rights, freedom of speech, and artistic expression.
“When the government can come in and tell you what to do, what to create, what to think, what to believe, then we do not live in a free America,” Stutzman said following the hearing.
Dozens of supporters organized by the group Alliance Defending Freedom hoisted signs reading “I stand with Barronelle” and “let freedom bloom.”
A smaller group, which included members of the ACLU, held rainbow flags and umbrellas to show support for Freed and Ingersoll.
“Washington state law is clear. Sexual orientation is a protected class, exactly like race, exactly like gender,” said Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson.
“This case helps reestablish and reaffirm the importance of free access to public accommodations for all of us, same-sex couples, people of all races and religions,” said Michael Scott, an attorney representing Freed and Ingersoll.
The couple is seeking a court order barring the florist from discriminating against customers on the basis of sexual orientation, as well as unspecified damages.
“Simply because she disagrees about marriage, the state has put everything Barronelle has, and her husband has, at risk,” said Kristen Kellie Waggoner, Stutzman’s attorney.