Florist who refused to do flowers for gay wedding to appeal

By The Associated Press | Posted - Feb. 19, 2015 at 7:31 p.m.

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KENNEWICK, Wash. (AP) — A florist who refused to provide flowers for a gay wedding plans to appeal a judge's ruling that she broke a Washington state antidiscrimination law.

Alliance Defending Freedom says the ruling threatens the financial ruin of 70-year-old Richland florist Barronelle Stutzman, along with her business, Arlene's Flowers. The organization says it will file the appeal on her behalf.

Benton County Superior Court Judge Alex Ekstrom on Wednesday rejected arguments that Stutzman's actions were protected by her freedoms of speech and religion.

Ekstrom says the First Amendment protects religious beliefs but not necessarily actions based on those beliefs. He also says the state has the authority to prohibit discrimination. He has also ruled that Stutzman can be held personally liable for damages.

"The message of these rulings is unmistakable: The government will bring about your personal and professional ruin if you don't help celebrate same-sex marriage," Kristen Waggoner, a lawyer for the alliance, said in a news release.

The florist was sued by the couple she refused as well as the state. She could be required to pay damages and legal fees.

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson said late Thursday his goal isn't Stutzman's financial ruin. He offered to settle the case for $2,000 — the fine for violations of the law — and a $1 payment for legal fees if she would agree not to discriminate in the future.

"My primary goal has always been to bring about an end to the defendants' unlawful conduct and to make clear that I will not tolerate discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation," Ferguson said in a news release. "Before this case began, my office wrote to Ms. Stutzman, asking her to comply with state law. Had she agreed to no longer discriminate, my office would not have filed suit, and Ms. Stutzman would not have paid any costs, fees or penalties."

Waggoner said Stutzman would consider the offer and respond.

"The attorney general's targeting of Barronelle was unprecedented," Waggoner said. "He has had 18 months to end the threat to our client's freedom and livelihood. It is interesting that this offer only materialized after his crusade to ruin this 70-year-old grandmother was exposed nationally."

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