Washington State Flower Shop That Denied Gay Grooms Looking for Second Hearing by U.S. Supreme Court

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Friday September 13, 2019

A flower shop owner in Washington State who refused floral arrangements for a same-sex wedding and was sued under state non-discrimination laws is looking to take her case to the U.S. Supreme Court for a second time, reported regional newspaper the Tri-City Herald.

Arlene's Flowers in Richland, Wash., turned down grooms Robert Ingersoll and Curt Freed and was sued in 2013 - two years before the U.S. Supreme Court, then less packed with conservative jurists, affirmed the right of all Americans, whether heterosexual or not, to access full marriage equality under the law, but a year after the State of Washington legalized marriage equality.

The case worked its way up to the Washington State Supreme Court, which ruled in 2017 in favor of the grooms, and from there was heard by the U.S. Supreme Court. The U.S. Supreme Court sent the case back to the State's Supreme Court, but the ruling, issued this past June, reiterated the Washington State Supreme Court's initial finding that the florist violated the couple's rights under the state's anti-discrimination laws.

Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson showed that he stood firmly behind the state's court, saying, "Washington state law protects same-sex couples from discrimination based on their sexual orientation, the same way it protects Washingtonians from discrimination based on their religion, veteran or military status, disability, race and other protected classes," reported MyNorthwest.

Added Ferguson: "I will continue to uphold these laws and fight to protect Washingtonians from discrimination."

But Arlene's Flowers owner Barronelle Stutzman, 74, who is reportedly a Southern Baptist, says that she, too, stands by her initial decision, citing her faith for her refusal.

Stutzman is represented by Alliance Defending Freedom, a right-wing legal organization that opposes LGBTQ rights and presses for legal decisions that will uphold religious beliefs over access and equal treatment in the public sphere of sexual minorities. ADF and Stutzman now intend to take the case back to the U.S. Supreme Court, media reports said.

Referring to the Washington Supreme Court's affirmation of its earlier ruling as a "First Amendment violation," the ADF asserted that "government officials will keep dragging reasonable and sincere people of faith ... through the courts, imposing ruinous judgments, and barring them from their professions simply because they hold disfavored views about marriage," MyNorthwest reported.

"Religious people should be free to live out their beliefs about marriage," the ADF went on to state. "But states like Washington afford that freedom only to people who support same-sex marriage while stripping it from Barronelle and others like her."

If heard again by the U.S. Supreme Court, the case could hand the anti-LGBTQ right a broader victory than the one it secured with the narrowly-decided ruling Masterpiece Cakeshop verdict in 2018. In that ruling, which applied to a case evolving a Colorado bakery that had declined to provide a wedding cake for a same-sex wedding, the U.S. Supreme Court sidestepped board questions of access and protection under anti-discrimination laws for sexual minorities who are targeted by "freedom of religion" or "freedom of conscience" arguments and focused solely on whether the Colorado Civil Rights Commission that initially determined that Masterpiece Cakeshop had violated the couple's rights had proceeded out of bias against religion. The Supreme Court said that the Commission had indeed done so.

In the wake of the 2016 elections, Pre4sident Trump has appointed two conservative-leaning jurists to the bench. One of them replaces family anti-LGBTQ justice Antoin Scalia, who died during President Obama's second term. Senate leader Mitch McConnell refused to entertain any Obama nominations to replace Scalia, saying it was too late in Obama's second term for him to appoint a new justice and the next president should be the one to nominate Scalia's replacement - even though the next presidential elections were more than a year away at the time.

That longshot maneuver paid off when Donald Trump, despite projections and expectations, secured the White House in 2016. Since then, Justice Anthony Kennedy - a swing vote on many cases that divided the Court along ideological lines, including the 2015 marriage equality ruling - has retired and been replaced by Brett Kavanaugh, whose confirmation was marred by accusations of sexual impropriety during his high school years.

With the Supreme Court's more sharply rightward tilt, many fear that the gains made by minorities, including LGBTQ Americans, may be at risk of reversal. Justice Clarence Thomas - whose own 1991 confirmation was beset by accusations of sexual harassment - has made remarks in recent months that have been interpreted as invitations to bring to the court new cases that could result in the undoing of previous rulings, including the finding for marriage equality.

That perception has prompted the City of New York to recently propose repealing one of its own laws - a ban on so-called "conversion therapy," which purports to "turn" gay people straight and which has been denounced as a sham therapy by reputable mental health professionals who say it "cures" nothing, "Changes" no one's sexual orientation, and poses the risk of significant harm to those who undergo it - rather than see a challenge to the law proceed to the Supreme Court and possibly threaten laws protecting LGBTQ youth across the country.

The Alliance Defending Freedom has already filed such a suit against New York City, on First Amendment grounds.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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