Barronelle Stutzman will get her day in court—again.
The U.S. Supreme Court vacated an earlier ruling against the 73-year-old owner of Arlene’s Flowers after declining to take up a 2013 case in which she refused to provide flowers for a gay couple’s wedding. She will instead get another shot to appeal before the Washington Supreme Court in light of SCOTUS’s June 4 decision in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission.
Last year, Washington’s highest court ruled Stutzman violated the civil rights of Robert Ingersoll and Curt Freed after refusing them a wedding bouquet. The couple had been customers at the Richland store for years, but Stutzman claimed that fulfilling their request would go against her Southern Baptist beliefs.
In a written opinion on behalf of the Washington Supreme Court, Justice Sheryl Gordon McCloud claimed that “discrimination based on same-sex marriage constitutes discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.”
The ruling was backed by Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson, who brought legal action against Stutzman for violating the state’s nondiscrimination laws.
Reaction to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to remand the decision to lower courts was mixed following the bench’s “narrow” 7-2 ruling in Masterpiece, in which the court ruled that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission demonstrated unconstitutional bias against religion in weighing the 2012 case. Like Stutzman, Lakewood baker Jack Phillips claimed that servicing a same-sex wedding would contravene his First Amendment right to freedom of expression.
Jennifer Pizer, senior counsel and law and policy director at Lambda Legal, called the Monday decision from SCOTUS “immensely frustrating and disappointing.”
“Just as in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case decided three weeks ago, the Supreme Court should simply have reaffirmed long-standing constitutional principles that freedom of religion is not a license to discriminate,” Pizer claimed in a statement. “Laws requiring businesses to be open to all do not conflict with the Constitution.”
“It is past time to put to rest these proliferating attempts to undermine the civil rights of LGBTQ people in the name of religion,” she added.
Others were more positive about the ruling. Masen Davis, the CEO of Freedom for All Americans, claimed in a press release that it sets an important precedent: The Supreme Court has again declined to issue a “license to discriminate” in the name of religion.
“Opponents of LGBTQ equality have asked the Supreme Court for a constitutional right to discriminate against LGBTQ people, and the Court has refused to do so on two separate occasions—first in Masterpiece, and now in Arlene’s Flowers,” Davis said. “Earlier this month, the Supreme Court reaffirmed our nation’s longstanding promise of equal opportunity for all, making clear that all business owners and all customers should be treated with respect.”
It remains to be seen how the outcome of Masterpiece will affect the earlier Washington Supreme Court ruling on Stutzman’s case, which was unanimous.
While the Masterpiece verdict was viewed as a victory for religious conservatives, SCOTUS declined to weigh in on many of the larger issues surrounding so-called “religious freedom.” Instead, it was a narrow procedural ruling on whether the Colorado Civil Rights Commission had judged the case fairly.
Earlier this month the Arizona Court of Appeals cited Judge Anthony Kennedy’s majority opinion in Masterpiece to uphold the rights of LGBTQ people to nondiscrimination laws shielding them from bias.
Kennedy claimed removing these protections would create “a community-wide stigma inconsistent with the history and dynamics of civil rights laws.”
LGBTQ advocates are hopeful the Washington Supreme Court will decide similarly.
“To be clear, the court made no indication the lower courts ruled incorrectly and made no decision on the case’s merits,” claimed James Esseks, director of ACLU’s LGBTQ and HIV Project, in a statement. “We are confident that the Washington State Supreme Court will rule once again in favor of the same-sex couple, and reaffirm its decision that no business has a right to discriminate.”
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