A stationery shop in Phoenix does not have to create custom invitations for same-sex couples’ weddings, the Arizona Supreme Court ruled today.
The owners of Brush & Nib Studio, which offers invitations and other goods featuring original artwork, had filed suit in 2016 seeking an exemption from Phoenix’s ordinance banning discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The business had never received an order for such invitations, and it had never been cited for violating the ordinance, which was amended six years ago to include those characteristics.
But the owners, Joanna Duka and Breanna Koski, feared that their conservative Christian belief that marriage should be limited to opposite-sex couples would someday lead to a citation, according to the Alliance Defending Freedom, the anti-LGBTQ group representing them. They were willing to sell premade wedding invitations to same-sex couples or create original artwork for their homes, but they contended that making custom wedding invitations for these couples would violate their rights to freedom of religion and expression.
Lower courts had declined the business’s request for an exemption, but the Arizona high court granted it today in a 4-3 ruling. “Duka, Koski, and Brush & Nib … have the right to refuse to express such messages under article 2, section 6 of the Arizona Constitution, as well as Arizona’s Free Exercise of Religion Act,” Justice Andrew Gould wrote for the court majority.
City officials stressed that the ruling was a limited one. The court ruled that “one company” was exempt from creating “one type of product” for same-sex couples, a city attorney told The Arizona Republic. And Mayor Kate Gallego said, “Today’s decision is not a win, but it is not a loss. It means we will continue to have a debate over equality in this community.”
But LGBTQ advocates said the ruling could lead to further discrimination. “This decision opens the door for other bigoted owners to outright discriminate against LGBTQ people for who we are and who we love,” Brianna Westbrook, vice-chair of the Arizona Democratic Party, wrote in a tweet, according to the Republic.
Lambda Legal, which had submitted a friend-of-the-court brief in the case supporting the city ordinance, issued the following statement from Senior Counsel and Law & Policy Director Jennifer C. Pizer: “Today, addressing a narrow factual context, a closely divided Arizona Supreme Court issued a troubling decision that grants business owners a limited license to discriminate when creating custom-designed, wedding-related artwork. The Ccourt misguidedly has concluded that free speech protections allow businesses to express antigay religious views by denying particular custom-design services to customers because of who they are. This ruling is dramatically at odds with decisions by courts across the country that have instead refused to create a religious license for businesses to exempt themselves from civil rights laws, and to pick and choose their customers according to their own religious criteria. The Arizona Court of Appeals last summer issued a thoughtful and comprehensive ruling that held that the operation of a stationery store, including designing and selling customized wedding merchandise, is not an expression of the business owners’ ideas and therefore not entitled to free speech protections. A majority of the justices on the Arizona Supreme Court disagreed.”
A statement also came from Justin Unga, deputy campaign director for the Human Rights Campaign: “Governor [Doug] Ducey’s Supreme Court just issued a license to discriminate against Arizona’s LGBTQ community in an alarming decision that puts the state’s people, reputation, and economy at risk. For years, Arizona’s economic councils, lawmakers, and leaders from every community, including faith and business leaders, worked together to build an Arizona that is open to everyone and attracts investments from across the country. Not only does this decision affect countless LGBTQ Arizonans, it sends a message about inclusivity to businesses and institutions seeking to invest in states that welcome all people. Today’s decision could also open the door for discrimination against other communities protected by the ordinance including religious minorities and women. LGBTQ Arizonans pay taxes, own businesses, serve in our military and contribute to our economy, and they deserve a government that stands with them. HRC joins the vast majority of Arizonans who believe discrimination is wrong, and we will mobilize the over 1 million equality voters in Arizona to proactively pass pro-equality reforms and elect leaders who believe all people deserve dignity and respect.”