Judge stays on Wash. gay wedding flowers case

RICHLAND, Wash. (AP) — A judge refused to recuse himself Friday in a dispute over a Washington state florist who declined to provide flowers for a same-sex wedding.

Attorneys representing the owner of Arlene's Flowers requested the recusal because of the judge's recent service as a board member for Columbia Basin College, where one of the plaintiffs works.

But Benton County Superior Court Judge Salvador Mendoza rejected the request, saying he interacted with plaintiff Curt Freed during board meetings but does not know him socially and sees no reason to recuse himself.

Mendoza said his wife also has bought flowers from Arlene's Flowers on several occasions.

"That's what happens in small communities," he said.

The Tri-City Herald reported (http://is.gd/aCKveZ ) that two other judges have recused themselves from the case in the past week.

The Washington state attorney general's office sued the shop owner, Baronelle Stutzman, saying she violated consumer protection law by refusing service in March to longtime customers Freed and Robert Ingersoll.

Under state law, it's illegal for businesses to refuse to sell goods, merchandise and services to any person because of their sexual orientation.

Stutzman says she has no problem with homosexual customers but won't support gay weddings because of her religious beliefs.

In addition to the state, the ACLU sued Stutzman on behalf of the Kennewick, Wash., couple.

In other action Friday, Mendoza consolidated the attorney general's lawsuit and the private lawsuit into a single case for purposes of discovery.

A religious freedom group, Alliance Defending Freedom, countersued the state on behalf of Stutzman.

The judge told lawyers representing all sides that he needs time to consider several other motions, including whether the attorney general has jurisdiction in the case.

Janelle Guthrie, a spokeswoman for the state attorney general, said the judge would rule on the motions during the week of July 8.

Washington voters legalized gay marriage in November. However, protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation were codified in 2006 in one of the first pushes to expand civil rights to the gay community.


Information from: Tri-City Herald, http://www.tri-cityherald.com