“He said he decided to get married, and before he got through I grabbed his hand and said, ‘I am sorry. I can't do your wedding because of my relationship with Jesus Christ,’" said Barronelle Stutzman, the owner of Arlene’s Flower Shop. With 37 years in the flower business, Barronelle Stutzman has made bouquets for hundreds of weddings, but has only ever turned down one.
“We hugged each other and he left, and I assumed that was the end of the story,” she said. But, in a twist that Stutzman never saw coming, that story was only the beginning. "It hit Facebook and it exploded," she said.
After being denied, Robert Ingersoll and his partner took their story online. In two days it went viral in the Tri-Cities. Arlene's little Facebook page boasting 166 likes, soon had hundreds of comments streaming in from “Hypocrite...you will burn in hell” to “Thank you for standing up for Christ,” Stutzman soon even had threats of violence. “I would like my building to stay, not burn down," she countered.
But the attacks don't faze the flower shop owner, Stutzman said it's hardened her resolve. “It's a personal conviction…it’s not a matter of being right or wrong. It's my belief."
Stutzman believes she's right to refuse, but the state says she is not legally allowed to. Sexual orientation is considered a protected class and you cannot discriminate against a protected class in Washington.
“She doesn't have the right to say no,” said one man across the street from her shop. “If people want to buy flowers they should be able to buy flowers.” “I disagree with her,” said Mallory Flesher. “They deserve to have flowers, too."
Stutzman knows she could lose business for her comments. “If they choose to go somewhere else that's ok," she said. She also knows some will chose to stay for the very same reason.
“It's good for her,” said Chrissy Reed. “I would do the same thing, because I believe the same."
Stutzman says she would do the same again too; she’s not apologizing for her actions. But she does want to take away the hurt it’s caused the couple, "I do feel bad this has caused so much turmoil and anger."
KEPR talked with Robert Ingersoll on Monday night. He said it felt like he was getting rejected by a friend, because the couple had done business with Stutzman for over a decade. He said he had no idea she felt the way she did. Ingersoll said he and his partner have lost nights of sleep over the issue. He said he hopes that the anger and fighting on Facebook can stop, so peace and acceptance can prevail.