Monday, June 25, 2018

US Supreme Court sends gay rights case involving a Washington flower shop back to state justices

Posted By on Mon, Jun 25, 2018 at 9:59 AM

click to enlarge TED EYTAN PHOTO
  • Ted Eytan photo

The U.S. Supreme Court will not review the gay rights case involving a Richland, Washington, florist, who refused to provide floral arrangements for a gay wedding.

In 2017, the Washington State Supreme Court unanimously decided that Barronelle Stutzman, the owner of Arlene's Flowers, violated the state's anti-discrimination law by refusing to provide the arrangements. State justices rejected Stutzman's argument that providing flowers for a gay wedding would violate her First Amendment rights.

She appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which has now vacated the Washington State Supreme Court's ruling without reviewing the specifics. The case has been sent back to the State Supreme Court for review in light of the high court's ruling on a similar case out of Colorado earlier this year.

The Colorado case involves a baker who refused to make a custom cake for a gay couple's wedding. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 7-2 in favor of the baker, though it did not answer the critical question of whether requiring him to bake a cake violates his First Amendment right to free speech and freedom of religion.

Rather, the majority decision turned on an unreasonable level of hostility toward the baker from a Colorado civil rights commission, which initially ruled against him.

It is in light of that narrow decision that Washington state justices will review the Arlene's Flowers case.

Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson, who brought the case against Stutzman, said in a statement that he is "confident [the State Supreme Court] will come to the same conclusion they did in their previous, unanimous ruling upholding the civil rights of same-sex couples in our state."

In a statement released Monday, the senior vice president for the Alliance Defending Freedom, who has argued on behalf of Stutzman and the Colorado baker, Jack Phillips, says the state attorney general has shown hostility toward Stutzman, similar to the Colorado commission.

"Barronelle, like Jack, serves all customers but declines to create custom art that expresses messages or celebrates events in conflict with her deeply held religious beliefs," Alliance Defending Freedom senior Vice President Kristen Waggoner said in a statement. "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."

If State Supreme Court justices reach the same conclusion as they did in 2017, Stutzman can again appeal the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, a spokesperson for the attorney general's office said.
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