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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, June 29, 2018 - Volume 46 Issue 26
SCOTUS punts second LGBT rights case
Section One
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SCOTUS punts second LGBT rights case

What it means for Washington state

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

The US Supreme Court has vacated a 2017 ruling by the Supreme Court of Washington that Pasco florist Barronelle Stutzman violated the state's anti-discrimination laws by refusing to supply wedding flowers for a Gay couple.

The federal high court's June 25 decision returns the Washington state case to square one, with the state Supreme Court under orders to review Stutzman's claims in light of the US Supreme Court ruling in a similar case involving a Colorado baker.

In that case, Masterpiece Cake Shop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, the high court said that the baker's First Amendment free speech and freedom of religion rights were violated when the State of Colorado fined him for refusing to make a wedding cake for a Gay couple.

'The Supreme Court today asked the Washington courts to re-examine our clients' case in light of the recent decision in Masterpiece Cakeshop,' said James Esseks, director of ACLU's LGBT and HIV Project and attorney for the Gay couple in the Washington state case.

'To be clear, the court made no indication the lower courts ruled incorrectly and made no decision on the case's merits. We are confident that the Washington state Supreme Court will rule once again in favor of the same-sex couple, and reaffirm its decision that no business has a right to discriminate. Our work to ensure LGBT equality is the law and the norm in all 50 states will continue.'

In the Colorado case, the 7-2 majority relied on two arguments:

o That the Colorado Civil Rights Commission showed impermissible bias against the plaintiff's religion, based on a single remark made by one commission member.

o That the cake shop did not refuse to sell the couple an ordinary cake from its case of baked goods, it refused to create a special cake for their wedding. That act of creation, the high court said, made the cake a work of art and not a mere commodity, bringing it under the purview of the First Amendment.

In the Washington case, the state Supreme Court will therefore have to examine whether any Human Rights Commission member or any lower court judge connected with the case made remarks that could be construed as hostile to Stutzman's religion.

The state Supreme Court will also have to look at what kind of product Stutzman was asked to sell the Gay couple.

According to the Gay couple bringing the complaint, Stutzman had sold them flower arrangements for many years before suddenly refusing to supply flowers for their wedding. Does that demonstrate an illegal bias against same-sex couples based on sexual orientation, as Washington courts originally found? Or is a wedding arrangement a special artistic creation that privileges Stutzman's rejection of the couple under the First Amendment?

These questions will be litigated against the backdrop of the retirement of US Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, a conservative justice who nevertheless sided with an expansive view of LGBT rights. His replacement is not likely to be as friendly to the LGBT community, and the federal court will probably seek to shrink legal protections for LGBT Americans in future cases.

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