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Washington florist who refused to sell flowers for gay wedding rejects settlement on bias case

02/20/2015 04:08 EST | Updated 04/22/2015 05:59 EDT
SPOKANE, Wash. - A florist who refused to provide flowers for a gay wedding has rejected an offer from the Washington state attorney general to settle a discrimination case by paying a $2,000 fine and agreeing to sell bouquets for same-sex ceremonies in the future.

"Our state would be a better place if we respected each other's differences, and our leaders protected the freedom to have those differences," Barronelle Stutzman wrote in a letter Friday to Attorney General Bob Ferguson.

She wrote that gay couples are allowed to act on their views, but "because I follow the Bible's teaching that marriage is the union of one man and one woman, I am no longer free to act on my beliefs."

Stutzman, 70, owner of Arlene's Flowers in Richland, Washington, had earlier said she plans to appeal a judge's ruling that she broke a state antidiscrimination law.

Benton County Superior Court Judge Alex Ekstrom on Wednesday rejected arguments that Stutzman's actions were protected by her freedoms of speech and religion.

The First Amendment protects religious beliefs but not necessarily actions based on those beliefs, Ekstrom ruled. The state has the authority to prohibit discrimination, and Stutzman can be held personally liable for damages if she breaks bias laws, the judge said.

Stutzman's lawyer contended that the attorney general's offer was aimed at avoiding bad publicity.

"He's had nearly two years to end the threat to Barronelle's freedom and livelihood," Kristen Waggoner said.

A gay couple and the state sued the florist, who could be required to pay damages and legal fees that far exceed the attorney general's offer.

Ferguson said Thursday that his goal wasn't Stutzman's financial ruin. He offered to settle the case for $2,000 — the fine for violations of the law — and a $1 payment for legal fees if she would agree not to discriminate against same-sex couples.

"My primary goal has always been to bring about an end to the defendants' unlawful conduct and to make clear that I will not tolerate discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation," Ferguson said in a news release.

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