US: Second lawsuit filed against florist which refused to serve same-sex wedding couple

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A second lawsuit has been filed against a florist in the US state of Washington which refused to provide its services to a same-sex wedding, citing religious objections.

The US state of Washington’s attorney general last week filed a lawsuit against Arlene’s Flowers, which refused to provide flowers to a gay couple for their wedding, despite having served them previously.

The consumer protection action filed seeks $2000 (£1300), in fines, as well as requiring Arlene’s Flowers to comply with the state’s consumer protection laws, which prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Now the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), has also filed a lawsuit against Arlene’s Flowers, run by florist Barronelle Stutzman.

Where the ACLU suit differs from that filed by the attorney general, is it names the gay couple Robert Ingersoll and Curt Freed, as plaintiffs, and seeks damages on their behalf.

The owner told the longtime customer that the shop could not provide the service “because of [her] relationship with Jesus Christ.” She said she believed that “biblically” that marriage should be between one man and one woman.

ACLU spokesman for Washington state, Doug Honig, said: “Everybody is entitled to their own private religious beliefs and the ACLU respects that strongly. But a business open to the public cannot use religion as a reason to justify discriminating.”

Prior to filing the lawsuit, the ACLU weighed in on the argument, writing to Stutzman saying she should agree to begin providing flowers without discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation, that she publish a letter of apology, and donate $5,000 to a local youth centre, in lieu of attorneys’ fees.

Facebook campaigns on both sides of the argument have started, some condemning Arlene’s for refusing the service, others defending the owner, and saying she should be allowed to discriminate because of her religious beliefs.

Washington state legalized equal marriage in November, and despite an increase in support for it, has remained divided over the issue.