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Supreme Court rejects appeal from Christian florist who discriminated against gay couple

Barronelle Stutzman
Photo: Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

The U.S. Supreme Court has refused to hear the case of Barronelle Stutzman, the Southern Baptist Christian floral shop owner who refused to provide a floral arrangement for a same-sex couple’s wedding.

In 2013, Stutzman denied a custom floral arrangement to Robert Ingersoll and Curt Freed, a male same-sex couple who visited her shop, Arlene’s Flowers and Gifts, in Washington state. Though she claims to have previously sold pre-made arrangements for use in same-sex weddings, she said that making a custom arrangement would violate her religious beliefs and “her relationship with Jesus Christ.”

Related: Christian baker loses second discrimination case for refusing trans woman’s birthday cake order

Washington law forbids businesses from discriminating based on sexual orientation. So the state fined her $1000 and told her to stop discriminating against same-sex couples – she could either sell flower arrangements to all couples or none. The state and the couple both sued the shop after she refused to comply with the law.

In 2015, a county court ruled against her. When she appealed its ruling, the Washington Supreme Court ruled against her too. She then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court which refused to hear her case today, allowing the state supreme court ruling to stand.

Stutzman said the state’s anti-discrimination law violated her constitutional rights to free speech. Her argument was similar to the one used by Jack Phillips, the owner of the Masterpiece Cakeshop in Colorado. In June 2018, Phillips’ case against his state’s anti-discrimination ordinance won at the Supreme Court, albeit in a narrow ruling based on technical grounds.

Phillips’ and Stutzman’s argument – that their products are artistic creations that are a form of “speech” and that non-discrimination laws violate their First Amendment rights – have not been upheld by the Supreme Court.

Both Phillips and Stutzman were represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), the anti-LGBTQ legal organization that regularly poses legal challenges to anti-discrimination laws. Their arguments, tailored specifically to permit anti-LGBTQ discrimination, would greatly expand the definition of an artist who can claim First Amendment protections and could be used to deny services in many industries to anyone who doesn’t follow a business owner’s religious beliefs.

Ingersoll and Freed’s case against Stutzman was handled by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson.

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