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Washington state sues florist who cites religious beliefs for refusing to serve gay couple

| Wednesday, April 10, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

SEATTLE — Washington state's attorney general has filed a consumer protection action against an eastern state florist who refused to provide flowers for a same-sex wedding, telling a longtime customer that it was “because of my relationship with Jesus Christ.”

The lawsuit seeks $2,000 in fines for each violation and an injunction requiring Arlene's Flowers to comply with the state's consumer protection laws, which prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

The aborted transaction has caused a brouhaha in Washington, which legalized same-sex marriage in November but remains divided over the issue.

The gay marriage referendum passed largely because of a flood of support in liberal Seattle, while more conservative communities in eastern Washington had deep reservations. In Benton County, where Arlene's Flowers does business, 63 percent opposed it.

Since the March 1 incident in the town of Richland, a “Boycott Arlene's Flowers” Facebook page has shown up, while the shop's own Facebook page has been flooded with messages of support.

“Stand strong for what is healthy, right and Godly,” said one backer, while a critic wrote that “this is about the law… There is not an ‘I believe in Jesus so the laws don't apply to me' exemption.”

Robert Ingersoll and his partner, Curt Freed, had been buying flowers from Arlene's for nearly a decade when Ingersoll asked Barronelle Stutzman to provide flowers for their upcoming wedding in September, according to the couple's attorneys.

Stutzman, who declined to comment to the Los Angeles Times on Wednesday, said earlier on her Facebook page that she refused.

Stutzman said she believes “biblically” that marriage is between a man and a woman.

Ingersoll told the Tri-City Herald the encounter had been deeply troubling. “It really hurt because it was somebody I knew,” he said. “We laid awake all night Saturday. It was eating at our souls. There was never a question she'd be the one to do our flowers. She does amazing work.”

In an announcement of the lawsuit Tuesday, Attorney General Bob Ferguson said he had sent a letter to Stutzman before filing the suit asking her to reconsider, but she refused through her attorney.

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