The U.S. Supreme Court today ruled in favor of a Colorado baker who refused to make a custom cake for a same-sex couple's wedding based on his religious beliefs. The decision could have some implications
for a similar case in Washington state.
The much anticipated 7-2 decision turns on what Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority
, calls "hostility toward the sincere religious beliefs that motivated [the baker's] objection," referring to a Colorado civil rights commission, which initially ruled against the baker, Jack Phillips.
"The government, consistent with the Constitution's guarantee of free expression, cannot impose regulations that are hostile to the religious beliefs of affected citizens and cannot act in the manner that passes judgment upon or presupposes the illegitimacy of religious beliefs and practices," Kennedy writes.
The Colorado case pitting religious freedom against gay rights has some similarities to a case in Washington state
, which awaits possible review by the U.S. Supreme Court. The narrowly crafted decision in the Colorado case did not answer the critical question of whether requiring Phillips to bake a cake for a same-sex couple violates his First Amendment right to free speech.
In February 2017, the Washington State Supreme Court ruled that a Richland, Washington, florist violated the state's anti-discrimination law when she refused to provide floral arrangements for a same-sex wedding.
Like the Colorado baker, Barronelle Stutzman argued that providing an arrangement for a gay wedding goes against her religious beliefs, and requiring her to do so violates her First Amendment rights. Stutzman appealed the state Supreme Court's ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court, which has not said whether it will hear her case.
Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson, who sued Stutzman for the discrimination, says today that the ruling in Colorado "may add some procedural steps to the Arlene's Flowers case, but it will not alter its ultimate resolution."
"Washington state law protects same-sex couples from discrimination based on their sexual orientation, the same way it protects Washingtonians from discrimination based on their religion, veteran or military status, disability, race and other protected classes," Ferguson says in a prepared statement. "Nothing about today's ruling changes that. I will continue to enforce our state law against discrimination.
Ferguson says the court's decision in the Colorado case relies on facts that are not present in the florist's case, specifically the hostility from the Colorado civil rights commission.
"We are confident Washington courts showed no such hostility," Ferguson says.
It's unclear whether the U.S. Supreme Court will accept the Arlene's Flowers case, though Ferguson says one possibility is to send the case back to the state's Supreme Court to determine whether today's ruling applies. If that happens, Ferguson says he is confident the Washington State Supreme Court justices will stick with their unanimous decision in favor of the same-sex couple.
Although the Colorado case did not satisfy the major question of freedom of religion and expression versus gay rights, Justice Kennedy notes in his opinion that while religious objections to gay marriage are protected under the Constitution, those protections generally do not allow business owners to deny gay people service.
There are exceptions, Justice Kennedy notes, such as a clergy who objects to same-sex marriage, who likely could not be compelled to perform a ceremony. Though if the exceptions are not narrowly drawn, a "long list of persons who provide goods and services for marriages and weddings might refuse to do so for gay persons, thus resulting in a community-wide stigma inconsistent with the history and dynamics of civil rights laws that ensure equal access to goods, services and public accommodations."