No Decisions Reached in Arlene’s Flowers Lawsuit Preliminary Hearings
A written ruling has been promised by the judge, but no date given.
It's been a LONG time since a court case attracted this much attention, and this many supporters for a defendant.
In a courtroom packed with supporters, while many other stood outside, attorneys for Arlene's Flowers owner Barronelle Stutzman, and the Attorney General's office presented their sides during preliminary hearings over the lawsuit filed against the store and it's owner.
Stutzman, who owns the popular Tri-Cities flower shop in Richland, is being sued by the Attorney General for violating discrimination laws. They say her refusal to provide flowers and services for a same-sex wedding is against laws that prohibit discrimination based upon sex as well as race, color and creed.
Two summary judgement motions were presented by each side. These are petitions to have the suit either dropped, or settled before it goes to trial. As the Family Policy Institute of WA put it, both sides were asking the judge to rule 'in their favor, because a trial is not needed at all.' According to the FPI, who had representatives present at the hearing:
"The first motion was brought by Arlene's Flower's lawyers who argued that the lawsuit should be dismissed because the entire incident was essentially a miscommunication. During depositions, the customers stated that the only thing they wanted was to purchase twigs, sticks, flowers, and vases so they could decorate themselves. Mrs. Stutzman has stated consistently that if she had known that was all they wanted, she would happily have sold those things to the customers, and remains happy to do so in the future. But she was under the impression they wanted full wedding services, which she did not feel she could do.
The summary judgment motion brought by the government and ACLU argued that the judge should rule in favor of the state without a trial because by acknowledging that she is unwilling to provide full wedding services for same-sex ceremonies, Arlene's Flowers has admitted discriminating based on sexual orientation.
In response, Arlene's Flower's argued that she did not and does not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. They cited the fact that she had a warm, friendly, customer relationship with the plaintiffs for nine years prior to the incident, while knowing they were in a same-sex relationship. They argued that her willingness to serve gay people generally, and even sell goods for a same-sex ceremony, indicates that she does not violate on the basis of sexual orientation, only that she is unwilling to celebrate a same-sex ceremony.
The state also argued that the government's compelling interest in ending what they call discrimination overrides a person's own religious convictions, or burden of conscience.
Stutzman's attorneys argued back that since sexual orientation was added to the non-discrimination statute 8 years ago, the Human Rights Commission has not found a single instance of discrimination based upon sexual orientation.
Some critics of AG Bob Ferguson and his office claim he's trying to make "an example" of Stutzman, hitting her with not only a lawsuit against the business but the owner herself, with hopes of 'discouraging' any other business owner from exercising their religious beliefs in this manner.
Some critics also believe Ferguson is throwing his best attorneys and "ammunition" at this case because it's very important to his political career.
Judge Alex Eckstrom did not issue any rulings on these motions, but said he would provide a written decision but gave no date.
The actual trial is slated to begin next March 23rd. in Benton County Superior Court.