Attorney: Arlene's Flowers protected under First Amendment

Attorney: Arlene's Flowers protected under First Amendment »Play Video

RICHLAND, Wash. -- Many are voicing their support and their disgust with the situation surrounding Arlene's Flowers. The state is now threatening to fine the Richland florist for denying bouquets to a gay customer. Now the ACLU has announced they are representing the gay couple as well.

As KEPR first reported Tuesday, the Attorney General's Office filed a lawsuit in Benton County Superior Court against Barronelle Stutzman, owner of Arlene's Flowers.  It is seeking $2,000 in fines for every refusal of service based on sexual orientation.

There's really no middle ground on this issue. Either you support the decision by Arlene's Flowers or you don't.

Rose Mindermann supports the Richland florist's right to refuse flowers for a gay wedding.

"She didn't think there was anything that was going to come of it," Mindermann said.

Mindermann used to work with shop owner Barronelle Stutzman at her store on Lee Boulevard. She believes Barronelle can pick and choose her customers.

"She should have the right if you don't want to serve someone in your business because she has the sign you shouldn't have to," she said.

But the state says that's not the case when it comes to gay couples. Washington is now suing the Richland florist. The attorney general cites a 2006 state law that says you cannot refuse service based on someone's sexual orientation.

Barronelle did just that last month. She openly posted her decision on the shop's Facebook page citing her relationship with Jesus Christ as her reason for denying wedding flowers to a gay customer.

The story gained global traction when it was picked up by the Huffington Post. It made its way to Germany where a Richland native now lives. Shelby Van Voris says she was shocked and started a new Facebook page called Boycott Arlene's Flowers.

"We are simply giving people a forum to voice their concerns and also to connect with one another," Van Voris said.

She hopes she can make a difference even from another continent.

Action News visited Stutzman at her shop to get all sides, but she didn't want to talk on camera.

KEPR obtained the original letter sent to the owner of Arlene's Flowers by the Washington State Attorney General's Office. In what's known as an "Assurance of Discontinuance," the letter explains that store owner, Barronelle Stutzman, is in violation of the Washington Consumer Protection Act for her decision to refused goods or services based on a consumer's sexual orientation.

Stutzman's retained an attorney from Snohomish, Wash. and responded to the Assistant Attorney General's letter. Attorney J.D. Bristol insists his client is not in violation of the Consumer Protection Act. He says Stutzman is protected under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. He says, "The state cannot require a florist to express appreciation for, or acceptance of gay 'marriage' any more than the state can require a musician to write a song about it, or an artist to paint a picture."

It chalks this up to a first amendment protection and says she can't be forced to arrange flowers for a gay wedding just like a musician can't be forced to write a song.

Those who support the flower shop and Barronelle say this whole thing has spiraled out of control. They believe this story should have ended when the gay customer left the shop that day. Others they think this is just the beginning in the fight for equality.