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Jan. 16, 2022

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Tri-Cities florist settles with gay couple

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KENNEWICK — A Richland florist mired in an 8-year legal battle that reached the U.S. Supreme Court will retire after settling with the same-sex couple whose wedding was at the center of the lawsuit.

Barronelle Stutzman announced the settlement Thursday, saying she has paid $5,000 to Robert Ingersoll.

She also wished Ingersoll, who had been her customer for nearly 10 years, “the very best.”

Ingersoll and his husband, Curt Freed, plan to donate the settlement payment to a local PFLAG chapter, and personally match the $5,000.

The agreement allows Stutzman to “preserve her conscience” by not forcing her to act against her religious beliefs as a Southern Baptist, according to a news release from her attorneys with Alliance Defending Freedom.

It also prevents the longtime owner of Arlene’s Flowers on Lee Boulevard from having “to pay potentially ruinous attorneys’ fees — a threat she has endured for years,” the release said.

Alliance Defending Freedom and the lead attorney on Stutzman’s case, Kristen Waggoner, secured the settlement with the American Civil Liberties Union.

“I am willing to turn the legal struggle for freedom over to others. At age 77, it’s time to retire and give my business to someone else,” Stutzman wrote in her letter announcing the end to her legal journey. “I’ve never had to compromise my conscience, or go against my faith.”

“I’m thankful that God’s love has sustained me through all of the trials and challenges of these last few years,” she added.

“There is a great deal of division at work in our country today, but God has shown me again and again that His love is stronger than the anger and the pain so many are feeling. And He’s given me countless opportunities to share His love with others along the way.”

Stutzman, a great-grandmother, says she will retire “so her beloved employees can run her business.”

The settlement leaves in place two unanimous decisions by the Washington state Supreme Court that the Constitution does not grant a license to discriminate against LGBTQ people, the ACLU of Washington said.

“We took on this case because we were worried about the harm being turned away would cause LGBTQ people,” Freed and Ingersoll said Thursday in a statement released by the ACLU. “We are glad the Washington Supreme Court rulings will stay in place to ensure that same-sex couples are protected from discrimination and should be served by businesses like anyone else.”

“We are also pleased to support our local PFLAG’s work to support LGBTQ people in the Tri-Cities area,” Freed and Ingersoll continued. “It was painful to be turned away and we are thankful that this long journey for us is finally over.”

PFLAG is a national organization uniting parents, families and allies with people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer.

The ACLU initially brought the anti-discrimination lawsuit against Stutzman in 2013 on behalf of Ingersoll and Freed.

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson sued separately, saying the floral artist violated the state’s Consumer Protection Act by declining to provide services based on sexual orientation.

A Benton County Superior Court judge in 2015 ruled that Stutzman needed to pay $1 in attorneys’ fees and costs to the state, along with a $1,000 civil penalty, for discriminating against the couple. That judgment still stands.

“We are pleased to hear that Arlene’s Flowers and Barronelle Stutzman have reached a settlement agreement with the couple they refused to serve,” Ferguson said in an email to the Tri-City Herald.

“The state is not a party to the settlement, and Arlene’s Flowers has already paid the $1,001 it owed the state. But we welcome this resolution, which preserves two unanimous victories at the state Supreme Court and ensures that LGBTQ+ Washingtonians are free of the indignity and harm of being turned away on the basis of whom they love.”

The two cases worked their way up together on appeals by Stutzman to the state Supreme Court, and ultimately to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The country’s highest court vacated Washington state’s previous ruling and remanded it back to the lower court in 2018.

The Washington Supreme Court in 2019 again issued a unanimous opinion saying Stutzman broke state laws when she cited religious freedom in turning down her customer’s request to design arrangements for his wedding.

Stutzman and Alliance Defending Freedom — in their second attempt to get the case before the U.S. Supreme Court — filed a petition for review in September 2019.

The court wrapped up its last term on July 2, with only three justices saying they would agree to review the Washington state decision.

Stutzman responded with a petition for rehearing, but will withdraw it as part of her settlement.

“This settlement is an end to a lengthy court case, not a change in or surrender of Barronelle’s beliefs,” said Waggoner, general counsel, said in the news release.

“Over the last eight years, Barronelle stood for the First Amendment freedoms of all Americans, even those who disagree with her about a deeply personal and important issue like marriage. And in so doing, she’s inspired millions of others in their own public and personal battles to live their faith without government interference.”

Waggoner said Stutzman’s case laid the groundwork for other creative professionals who have taken their cases to the U.S. Supreme Court, including Jack Phillips of Masterpiece Cakeshop and Lorie Smith and her studio, 303 Creative, both of Colorado.

“The Supreme Court needs to affirm the right of all Americans to speak and live consistent with their conscience,” said Waggoner.

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