Ingersoll and Freed v. Arlene’s Flowers; State of Washington v. Arlene’s Flowers

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Lambda Legal filed a friend-of-the-court brief, joined by eight other organizations, in the Washington Supreme Court in two companion cases brought on behalf of a gay couple against Arlene’s Flowers for refusing to sell flowers for their wedding. The business claims a religious right to refuse to sell floral arrangements to same-sex couples for weddings and also claims a right to reject same-sex couples because arranging flowers involves artistic expression that, Arlene’s Flowers’ owner contends, should be protected as free speech.

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The Attorney General of Washington and the ACLU each filed cases on behalf of the couple, Robert Ingersoll and Curt Freed, because sexual orientation discrimination by a company and its owner violates the Washington Law Against Discrimination and the state’s Consumer Protection Act.  Lambda Legal’s brief supported those cases by surveying the history and continuing problem of antigay discrimination in Washington. It also presented historical precedents in which courts rejected similar religious excuses for discrimination based on race, sex or marital status. The brief emphasized that, given the immense demographic diversity and religious pluralism of our nation—and of Washington in particular—the law must remain crystal clear: everyone’s religious liberty ends where legally prohibited harm to another begins.

On February 16, 2017, the Washington Supreme Court ruled unanimously, rejecting the religion- and speech-based excuses for discrimination.  Among other key points, the court explained: 

We agree with Ingersoll and Freed that “[t]his case is no more about access to flowers than civil rights cases in the 1960s were about access to sandwiches.” … As every other court to address the question has concluded, public accommodations laws do not simply guarantee access to goods or services. Instead, they serve a broader societal purpose: eradicating barriers to the equal treatment of all citizens in the commercial marketplace. Were we to carve out a patchwork of exceptions for ostensibly justified discrimination, that purpose would be fatally undermined.

The business has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to take the case for further review.