SEATTLE – The U.S. Supreme Court ordered Washington state courts Monday to take a new look at the case of a florist who refused to provide services for a same-sex wedding, in light of the justices’ recent ruling in a similar case involving a Colorado baker.
The order means the Supreme Court is again, for now, passing on the key issue in both cases: whether business owners citing their faith can refuse to comply with anti-discrimination laws that protect LGBT people.
The 73-year-old florist, Barronelle Stutzman, appealed after Washington’s Supreme Court ruled unanimously last year that she broke the state’s anti-discrimination law by refusing on religious grounds to provide flowers for the wedding of a customer at her Richland shop, Arlene’s Flowers, in 2013.
Early this month, the Supreme Court issued a limited ruling in favour of Jack Phillips, the proprietor of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, Colorado.
In an opinion by Justice Anthony Kennedy, the 7-2 majority found that comments by a member of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission displayed an anti-religious bias — depriving Phillips of the respect and consideration his beliefs deserved. The commissioner had said that “religion has been used to justify all kinds of discrimination throughout history,” including slavery and the Holocaust.
Kennedy wrote that such disputes “must be resolved with tolerance, without undue disrespect to sincere religious beliefs, and without subjecting gay persons to indignities when they seek goods and services in an open market.”
Washington courts will now review the florist’s case for similar issues, but it’s unclear whether their analysis will change. The state’s high court held in its ruling floral arrangements do not constitute protected free speech, and that providing flowers to a same-sex wedding would not serve as an endorsement of same-sex marriage.
Both Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson and Stutzman’s attorneys said the U.S. Supreme Court’s action was appropriate in light of the Masterpiece Cakeshop decision.
“The Washington State Supreme Court now has the job of determining whether the U.S. Supreme Court ruling affects this case,” Ferguson said in a written statement. “I am confident they will come to the same conclusion they did in their previous, unanimous ruling upholding the civil rights of same-sex couples in our state.”
But Stutzman’s attorney, Kristen Waggoner, senior counsel at the religious liberty law firm Alliance Defending Freedom, said the Masterpiece Cakeshop decision should prompt an overturning of Stutzman’s case. She cited what she described as the attorney general’s “unprecedented measures to punish Barronelle not just in her capacity as a business owner but also in her personal capacity.”
“The Washington attorney general’s efforts to punish her because he dislikes her beliefs about marriage are as impermissible as Colorado’s attempt to punish Jack,” Waggoner said.
Waggoner said Stutzman had sold the customer, Rob Ingersoll, flowers for nearly a decade and knew he was gay, but that his marriage did not comport with her beliefs and she could not provide services for it.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Washington represents Ingersoll and his husband, Curt Freed.
“There is simply no record of anti-religious sentiment from the Washington State courts, and we have every reason to believe the Washington State Supreme Court will reaffirm Curt and Robert’s right to be full and equal members of our society,” Emily Chiang said, the chapter’s legal director.
Associated Press writer Mark Sherman contributed from Washington.