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Washington state AG targets florist who rejected wedding order from gay couple

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By The Seattle Times
Saturday, April 20, 2013, 6:03 p.m.
 

SEATTLE — In a part of the state where attitudes toward gay and lesbian people are seldom favorable, Robert Ingersoll and Curt Freed have lived open but quiet lives — with a tight knot of friends they often entertain in their Kennewick, Wash., home.

Occasional volunteers at a Tri-Cities youth center for gay and lesbian teens, the men are not politically active and did not take part in last year's statewide campaign on same-sex marriage.

That might help explain why what happened at a Richland, Wash., flower shop March 1 has so upended their ordinary lives.

Freed and Ingersoll are now at the center of legal actions against Arlene's Flowers, where Ingersoll has been a customer for the nine years he's lived in the Tri-Cities and Freed for much of his life.

Ingersoll said he was surprised by the state attorney general's discrimination lawsuit against Arlene's owner, Barronelle Stutzman, who had told the couple that she wouldn't provide a floral arrangement for their September wedding because of her belief in Jesus Christ.

On the advice of her attorney, Stutzman, who's been selling flowers in the Tri-Cities for 37 years, hasn't spoken publicly since the lawsuit was filed. But right after the incident she told the Tri-City Herald that she believes she should be able to choose whether to participate in a wedding between two men.

She said she has nothing against gay people but believes marriage should be between a man and a woman.

On Thursday, the ACLU of Washington filed a private suit on behalf of the two men, seeking damages from the florist and asking that the shop stop its practice of denying service based on sexual orientation.

Ingersoll said the action isn't so much about him and Freed but about ensuring the same thing doesn't happen to anyone else, including the young people they've worked with at the Vista Youth Center.

After the two met in 2004, they soon settled into an unassuming life in a county where nearly two-thirds of voters rejected same-sex marriage last fall.

“We live in a conservative part of the state,” Ingersoll said. “But it's never been something that kept us back.”

He said that after voters approved same-sex marriage last fall, “Curt said, ‘I guess we need to start planning for a wedding.' ” Ingersoll went to the shop to talk about a floral arrangement for the simple wedding the men are planning.

He had gotten to know the people at Arlene's and liked them, which is why Stutzman's rejection hurt him in a way that even now he struggles to express.

While the men are likely to be witnesses in the state's case against Arlene's, they did not complain about the incident to either the attorney general or the Human Rights Commission, which enforces the state's anti-discrimination laws.

Local news media picked up their story, which is how the Attorney General's Office learned of the incident.

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