85K raised for Washington florist who refused gay couple

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Posted: Apr 05, 2015 5:10 PM
85K raised for Washington florist who refused gay couple

RICHLAND, Wash. (AP) — A florist in Washington state fined $1,000 for refusing to sell a same-sex couple wedding flowers and also facing a consumer-protection lawsuit filed by the state has netted more than $85,000 in a crowdfunding campaign.

The Seattle Times reports (http://bit.ly/1GztB9a) that nearly half of the money on the gofundme.com page set up in late February for Barronelle Stutzman, 70, came in the last several days.

Supporters compare Stutzman's benefit page to an Indiana pizza shop that raised more than $800,000 after closing when a co-owner expressed support for the state's new religious objections law to protect private business owners. The co-owner said the shop wouldn't cater a gay wedding.

But Indiana legislators, facing mounting pressure, tweaked the law late last week to address concerns that it would allow discrimination against gays and lesbians.

The Washington state law, Attorney General Bob Ferguson has said, "clearly prohibits discrimination against same-sex couples."

Stutzman, owner of Arlene's Flowers and Gifts in Richland, Washington, was fined $1,000 in Benton County Superior Court in March after refusing to serve a same-sex couple in 2013. That's a violation of that state's anti-discrimination and consumer protection laws, the court ruled.

The court's ruling also requires Stutzman's shop to make available to same-sex couples everything the shop sells to opposite-sex couples.

But Stutzman said same-sex weddings go against her Southern Baptist beliefs. After she declined to agree to no longer discriminate, Ferguson said, his office filed the consumer-protection lawsuit.

"It's about freedom, not money," Stutzman wrote Ferguson on Feb. 20, two days after the court ruling, in a letter obtained by the Seattle newspaper. "I certainly don't relish the idea of losing my business, my home, and everything else that your lawsuit threatens to take from my family, but my freedom to honor God in doing what I do best is more important."

A message left at Arlene's Flowers and Gifts on Sunday by The Associated Press wasn't returned.

A note on the gofundme site for Stutzman said the site was set up by a friend of Stutzman who works for a legal organization, and that donated money is intended for potential legal bills. More than 2,000 people had made donations by Sunday, the website said.

A message sent Sunday by the AP through the website to a person listed as the campaign organizer didn't receive a response by phone or email.