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Ruling Against Florist Who Refused Same-Sex Wedding Affirmed (1)

June 6, 2019, 4:34 PMUpdated: June 6, 2019, 7:54 PM

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in favor of a Christian baker doesn’t change a ruling that a Christian florist was properly fined for discriminating against a same-sex couple, the Washington Supreme Court said.

Reconsidering a previous ruling at the direction of the high court, the state Supreme Court reaffirmed a judgment in favor of Robert Ingersoll and Curt Freed, who successfully sued the florist, Barronelle Stutzman, for refusing to sell flowers for the couple’s wedding.

The “adjudicatory bodies that considered this case did not act with religious animus when they ruled that the florist and her corporation violated the Washington Law Against Discrimination” and “did not act with religious animus when they ruled that such discrimination is not privileged or excused by” the U.S. or Washington Constitutions, Judge Gordon McCloud wrote for the court.

The controversy could again wind up at the U.S. Supreme Court and is one of many discrimination disputes to grab the spotlight after its decision that the right to marry extends to same-sex couples, in 2015’s Obergefell v. Hodges.

Stutzman will ask the justices to review the decision, Alliance Defending Freedom, which represents her, said in a press release.

Another Look

The first time the U.S. Supreme Court considered the case, it sent the dispute back to Washington state for another look in light of its decision in Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colo. Civil Rights Comm’n.

In that case, the Colorado Civil Rights Commission had found that a Christian baker violated a state antidiscrimination law by refusing to make a custom cake for a same-sex couple’s wedding.

Masterpiece Cakeshop held that the commission violated the baker’s free exercise rights by showing “clear and impermissible hostility” toward his religious beliefs.

Stutzman expressed her disappointment that the state court found no such animus here, but said she’s confident the Supreme Court will take her side, on a call with reporters and Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian legal group.

The “hostility my state has shown me because of my faith is undeniable,” Stutzman said.

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson also responded to the ruling.

“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,” Ferguson said in a statement.

Ferguson pledged that he would “continue to uphold these laws and fight to protect Washingtonians from discrimination.”

SCOTUS-Bound?

Alliance Defending Freedom expects to file a petition for high court review within three to four months, and the court could announce whether it will hear the case as early as January next year, John Bursch, the organization’s vice president of appellate advocacy, said on the media call.

Ilya Shapiro of the Cato Institute, a libertarian organization, said he hopes the high court takes up “one of these cases at the intersection of the First Amendment and antidiscrimination law—and soon.”

“It’s disappointing that the state Supreme Court essentially rubber-stamped its previous decision,” he said.

But Shapiro said that wasn’t surprising because the high court “punted on the key issues in Masterpiece Cakeshop.

“We can quibble about where to draw the line between expressive and nonexpressive businesses, but nobody should be forced to convey messages they don’t agree with, whether for religious or secular reasons,” Shapiro said.

Eric Lesh of the LGBT Bar Association and Foundation of Greater New York applauded the ruling in Washington state.

“It’s fantastic” because the ruling’s interpretation of Masterpiece Cakeshop was “exactly right,” that the high court didn’t grant a license for public accommodations to engage in anti-LGBT discrimination, Lesh said.

There is therefore no need for the high court to take up the case, Lesh said.

Coffee Incident

The court rejected Stutzman’s motion to supplement the record with an instance of what she said showed anti-religious bias by Ferguson, the state’s attorney general.

Stutzman claimed that the owner of a Seattle coffee shop kicked out a group of Christian customers, the court said.

Stutzman argued that the attorney general’s refusal to enforce the state’s anti-discrimination law against her but not against the coffee shop showed his hostility toward her beliefs.

The court held that the attorney general’s response to the coffee shop incident wasn’t relevant.

Masterpiece Cakeshop pertains to bias by an adjudicatory body, the court said.

But Ferguson, who represents Washington, is an attorney for a party to the case and isn’t an adjudicator, the court said. “It would take a broad expansion of Masterpiece Cakeshop to apply its holding—that the adjudicatory body hearing a case must show religious neutrality— to a party.”

The case is Washington v. Arlene’s Flowers, Inc., C.C.W.D. Wash., No. 91615-2, 6/6/19.

To contact the reporters on this story: Perry Cooper in Washington at pcooper@bloomberglaw.com; Patrick L. Gregory in Washington at pgregory@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Jo-el J. Meyer at jmeyer@bloomberglaw.com; Nicholas Datlowe at ndatlowe@bloomberglaw.com; John Crawley at jcrawley@bloomberglaw.com