This Case of a Homophobic Florist May Give Us the ‘Masterpiece Cakeshop’ Decision We Wanted
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If you were disappointed in last week’s Supreme Court ruling on the Masterpiece Cakeshop case, you might be happy to know that a very similar case is likely to appear before the court this coming year. It involves a business in Washington state called Arlene’s Flowers and Gifts, which denied a floral arrangement to a male same-sex couple in 2013.
Gay couple Robert Ingersoll and Curt Freed had been regular customers of Arlene’s Flowers and Gifts for nine years before they went into the store in 2013 and requested a flower arrangement for their wedding. The shop’s owner, Barronelle Stutzman, refused, saying that as a Southern Baptist it’d violate her religious beliefs and “her relationship with Jesus Christ.”
Washington has a law forbidding businesses from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation, so the state and the couple each sued Arlene’s Flowers and Gifts as violating the law. Both cases were eventually turned into a single case against Stutzman’s shop.
Similar to Jack Phillips, the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop who refused to make a cake for a same-sex wedding, Stutzman said the state’s anti-discrimination ordinance violated her constitutional rights to free speech as she considers flower arrangements a form of artistic expression. (This argument is problematic, though, because it could easily extend to anyone who creates food or performs an “art” like the “art of healing.”)
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In February 2017, the Washington State Supreme Court found unanimously against Stutzman. Stutzman has appealed the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, which is currently deciding whether or not to give her case a hearing.
Stutzman is being represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), the anti-gay legal counsel that regularly poses legal challenges to LGBTQ rights. Ingersoll and Freed are being represented by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson.
Last week, after the U.S. Supreme Court released its Masterpiece Cakeshop ruling, Ferguson said, “While today’s decision may lead to additional procedural steps, it will not affect the ultimate outcome in the Arlene’s Flowers case. Same-sex couples in Washington state will continue to enjoy protections against discrimination, and I will continue to enforce our state’s law against discrimination.”
It’s likely that the ADF may try to search for evidence of anti-religious bias by Washington State in the legal proceedings against Stutzman to prove, as was done in Masterpiece Cakeshop, that anti-religious sentiment contributed to the state’s finding against the anti-gay business.
Barring that, however, the U.S. Supreme Court may finally give the United States an answer on whether it will allow religions to discriminate against customers on the basis of “sincerely held religious beliefs” and whether non-discrimination ordinances constitute a violation of the freedoms of speech and religion. If they find in favor of anti-gay businesses, it’ll affect far more than just wedding vendors and same-sex couples.