Barronelle Stutzman to retire as florist, ending religious-freedom battle over same-sex weddings

A Washington state florist has agreed to retire from her business and pay a $5,000 settlement to close out a case accusing her of illegal discrimination against a same-sex couple that had wanted her to provide custom floral arrangements for their wedding ceremony.

Barronelle Stutzman also agreed to cancel her request for a rehearing of her case before the U.S. Supreme Court.

She said the $5,000 payment to the two men was a way to exit without having to compromise on her religious beliefs and not have to pay large fees to lawyers for the couple.

“I am willing to turn the legal struggle for freedom over to others. At age 77, it’s time to retire,” she wrote in a letter announcing her decision to settle.

Her case had become one of the most-watched tests of same-sex couples versus religiously-devout businesspeople who have refused to service same-sex ceremonies.

The bakers and artists say their religious beliefs and First Amendment speech rights as artists are being trampled by local public accommodation laws that bar discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

The Alliance Defending Freedom, which had been representing Ms. Stutzman, said other pending cases will continue the issue.

One of those cases that ADF is shepherding involves a Colorado web designer who says the state’s anti-discrimination law is forcing her to design websites that promote messages she disagrees with.

Gay-rights groups say allowing service providers to use artistic freedom to shield their refusals upends the point of anti-discrimination law.

Ms. Stutzman, the florist, said she’ll turn Arlene’s Flowers over to her employees to run.

The case stemmed from a request by Robert Ingersoll, who’d been a client of the florist for a decade, to provide arrangements for his wedding to Curt Freed. Ms. Stuzman declined and provided the names of other florists.

After Mr. Freed publicized the incident online, Washington’s attorney general sued. The same-sex couple, working with lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union, also later sued.

The state’s case reached the U.S. Supreme Court, where the justices in 2019 sent it back to the state Supreme Court for reconsideration after the federal justices had ruled in favor of a Colorado baker who faced a similar case.

In a 7-2 decision the justices said Colorado’s Civil Rights Commission showed hostility toward baker Jack Phillips’s Christian beliefs when it pursued a case against him for refusing service for a same-sex wedding.

After getting the case back, Washington’s high court issued a new decision once again finding she was in violation of the state law.

The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case again, but Ms. Stutzman had been petitioning for a rehearing. Ms. Stutzman is dropping that petition as part of the settlement.

The same-sex couple said in a statement they will donate the $5,000 settlement to a local gay-rights group.

“We took on this case because we were worried about the harm being turned away would cause LGBTQ people,” they said. “It was painful to be turned away and we are thankful that this long journey for us is finally over.”

Ms. Stutzman said she is “at peace” with the outcome of the case.