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Baker, Florist Defend Refusals to Same-Sex Couples

WASHINGTON – A group of business owners who have made national headlines for refusing to serve same-sex weddings and events defended their actions on Wednesday as the Supreme Court prepares for a major case pitting religious freedom against gay rights.

The Supreme Court in June announced that it would consider the case of Colorado baker Jack Phillips, a Christian who refused to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding due to his religious beliefs. Phillips’ case could have major implications for Barronelle Stutzman, a Washington florist who refused to sell flowers to a longtime customer for his same-sex wedding.

The high court is currently deciding whether to hear Stutzman’s case, which was brought in lawsuits by the Washington attorney general and the ACLU. Oral arguments for Phillips’ case are expected in late November or early December, and a potential ruling could come in June.

“To create something that would go totally against my faith, which teaches me that marriage is between a man and a woman and Christ’s relationship with his church, that’s something that we cannot do,” Stutzman said Wednesday at the Heritage Foundation, noting that she will lose her entire life savings and business, Arlene’s Flowers, if she loses her case. The Washington State Supreme Court in a unanimous decision in February upheld fines against Stutzman for her actions, citing a state law that prohibits discrimination due to sexual orientation.

Stutzman had been serving the customer, Robert Ingersoll, for nine years prior to the lawsuit. When he told her about the wedding, she refused, citing her Christian beliefs and recommending three other florists. Ingersoll left, according to Stutzman, accepting the refusal, but his partner, Curt Freed, posted a message on Facebook, which went viral and prompted the Washington attorney general and the ACLU to get involved. The ACLU has argued that while religious freedom is a fundamental right, it doesn’t allow businesses to ignore the law or discriminate against homosexuals.

“We weren’t seeking her blessing, only an elegant display that would complement the beachy theme we wanted for our wedding,” Freed and Ingersoll wrote in the Seattle Times. “…We were reminded how discrimination works: Individuals are categorized, depersonalized, labeled.”

“I would be so excited if Rob came into my store,” Stutzman said. “I would wait on him another 10 years. I would hug him and catch up on his life. He is missed.”

Phillips opened Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, Colo., in 1993, he explained, to “create my art, do the baking that I love and serve the God that I love in ways that would hopefully honor him.” He noted that after he denied the same-sex couple in person, he received numerous calls and emails from anonymous individuals, one who threatened to shoot him in the head. He said that his shop doesn’t refuse same-sex couples, but does not bake cakes for weddings because his conscience wouldn’t feel right promoting the event.