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Washington Supreme Court Again Rules Against Antigay Florist

Barronelle Stutzman

The Washington Supreme Court has, for the second time, ruled that a florist violated the state’s antidiscrimination law by refusing to provide flowers for a same-sex couple’s wedding because of her “relationship with Jesus Christ.”

The court had made the same ruling in 2017 in the case of Barronelle Stutzman, owner of Arlene’s Flowers in Richland. But the U.S. Supreme Court last year sent the case back to the state court for review in light of the federal court’s decision in Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, involving a baker who wouldn’t create a wedding cake for a same-sex couple.

The high court had ruled that the commission hadn’t shown sufficient respect for the baker’s religious beliefs, and the commission’s finding of illegal discrimination was vacated. But the ruling didn’t create a broad license to discriminate against LGBTQ people or others who pose a conflict with a business owner’s religion.

The state court’s decision means that Stutzman’s case will likely be appealed to the nation’s highest court again. “We look forward to taking Barronelle’s case back to the U.S. Supreme Court,” John Bursch, an attorney with the Alliance Defending Freedom, the right-wing legal group representing Stutzman, told Reuters.

The Washington Supreme Court, in the ruling issued last Thursday, found that in Stutzman’s case, the lower state courts had “avoided animus toward religion.” It also asserted that having to create floral arrangements for the couple’s wedding would not violate her constitutional rights to freedom of speech and religion.

The case originated in 2013, when Stutzman declined to provide flowers for the wedding of Robert Ingersoll and Curt Freed, even though Ingersoll was a longtime customer and she considered him a friend. The couple, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, filed suit, as did the state of Washington, both alleging violations of the Washington Law Against Discrimination and the state’s Consumer Protection Act. The two cases were later consolidated. The Benton County Superior Court ruled against Stutzman, and she appealed directly to the state Supreme Court, resulting in the 2017 ruling and then last week’s decision.

“The State of Washington bars discrimination in public accommodations on the basis of sexual orientation,” Justice Sheryl Gordon McCloud wrote for the unanimous court last week. “Discrimination based on same-sex marriage constitutes discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.”

The key factor in reconsidering the case, according to the ruling, was whether all courts remained neutral toward Stutzman’s religious beliefs, and the Washington Supreme Court found that this was indeed the case. “We are confident that the courts resolved this dispute with tolerance, and we therefore find no reason to change our original judgment in light of Masterpiece Cakeshop,” McCloud concluded.

The U.S. Supreme Court, which now has a 5-4 conservative majority, has been asked to hear a similar case involving an Oregon bakery that wouldn’t serve a same-sex couple’s wedding, but it hasn’t said if it will take the case. It does, however, plan to hear cases involving employment discrimination against LGBTQ people.

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