Supreme Court Punts Same-Sex Wedding Flowers Case Back To Washington State

Jun 25, 2018

The U.S. Supreme Court has ordered the Washington state courts to take a new look at the case of a florist from Richland who refused to provide flowers for a same-sex wedding. The justices declined to hear the case themselves a few weeks after issuing a narrow ruling in a similar case involving a Colorado bakery.

Without elaboration, the nation’s highest court Monday ordered the Washington State Supreme Court to throw out its previous ruling and take a new look at the case in light of the Colorado wedding cake opinion.

Early last year, the state justices ruled unanimously that the owner of Arlene’s Flowers, Barronelle Stutzman, unlawfully discriminated when she declined for religious reasons to provide flower arrangements for the wedding of two local men.

“I opted out of participating in just one event in ten years because Scripture teaches me that marriage is between a man and a woman,” Stutzman said during a media teleconference arranged by her attorneys Monday. “If the government can tell you what events you must celebrate or take away all you own if you decline to violate your faith, then we don’t live in a free America.”

The reconsideration of the Arlene’s Flowers case by the state supreme court is likely to revolve around the issue of whether Washington’s government showed bias against religious beliefs as it enforced its anti-discrimination law that protects LGBT people.

The 7-2 majority opinion from the nation’s highest court in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case took the Colorado Human Rights Commission to task for displaying anti-religious bias, thereby depriving a baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a gay couple of the respect and consideration his beliefs deserved. Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote that such disputes "must be resolved with tolerance, without undue disrespect to sincere religious beliefs, and without subjecting gay persons to indignities when they seek goods and services in an open market.”

The American Civil Liberties Union and the Washington Attorney General’s Office separately sued Arlene’s Flowers after Stutzman turned away the same-sex couple Curt Freed and Robert Ingersoll of Richland, who got married in 2013.

“There is simply no record of anti-religious sentiment from the Washington State courts,” said ACLU of Washington Legal Director Emily Chiang in a statement Monday. “We have every reason to believe the Washington State Supreme Court will reaffirm Curt and Robert’s right to be full and equal members of our society.”

Democratic Washington Gov. Jay Inslee echoed a similar sentiment in a press release of his own.

The 73-year-old Stutzman and her attorneys with the legal nonprofit Alliance Defending Freedom maintain there is ample evidence the state persecuted her while overlooking cases of reverse discrimination such as a 2017 incident in which the owner of a Seattle coffee shop allegedly booted out Christian anti-abortion and anti-gay leafleters.

"The state of Washington has targeted me for over five years,” Stutzman said. “I find I am here today because my state attorney general is hostile to my religious beliefs.”

It is uncertain how quickly the Washington State Supreme Court will reconsider the florist’s case.

“The Washington State Supreme Court now has the job of determining whether the U.S. Supreme Court ruling affects this case,” state Attorney General Bob Ferguson said. “I am confident they will come to the same conclusion they did in their previous, unanimous ruling upholding the civil rights of same-sex couples in our state.”

Stutzman’s attorney Kristin Waggoner said it is possible the Arlene’s Flowers case will eventually be appealed back to the U.S. Supreme Court in hopes of resolving the core issue of whether business owners citing their faith can refuse to comply with anti-discrimination laws in certain situations.