The justices returned to Washington’s lower courts the case of florist Barronelle Stutzman, who refused to provide a floral arrangement for a longtime customer when he told her it was for his wedding to another man.
Richland florist Barronelle Stutzman is proclaiming a victory for her religious beliefs after the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday vacated the Washington State Supreme Court ruling that she had violated a gay couple’s civil rights by refusing service.
“I’m very thankful and grateful the Supreme Court will allow my case to continue,” said Stutzman, owner of Arlene’s Flowers. “This isn’t just about my freedom, it’s about everyone’s freedom.”
The U.S. Supreme Court didn’t hear Arlene’s Flowers v. Washington, but with two sentences, ordered the state Supreme Court to take another look at the case. The U.S. Supreme Court cited its recent decision earlier this month in favor of a Colorado baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a gay couple.
Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson said he wasn’t surprised by Monday’s order.
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“The Washington State Supreme Court now has the job of determining whether the U.S. Supreme Court ruling affects this case,” he said. “I am confident they will come to the same conclusion they did in their previous, unanimous ruling upholding the civil rights of a same-sex couple in our state.”
Ferguson and same-sex couple Curt Freed and Robert Ingersoll sued Arlene’s Flowers after Stutzman refused to design flowers for the men’s wedding in 2013 because she believed marriage was a sacred covenant between a man and a woman. The couple went ahead with their wedding, but they had it at home with 11 guests and flowers from another florist, instead of the larger event they had envisioned.
A Benton County judge ruled in 2015 that Stutzman violated the Washington Law Against Discrimination, which protects people from discrimination based on their sexual orientation, religion, disability, race and other protected classes.
Stutzman appealed, saying she had a right to refuse the couple based on her opposition to same-sex marriage. But the state Supreme Court last year unanimously upheld the lower court’s opinion.
Within the next month, the state Supreme Court will determine whether it will review the case, or send it to a lower court for review. But it’s unclear how Stutzman will fare, considering the state’s highest court sent a clear, unified message.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Washington represents Freed and Ingersoll.
“To be clear, the court made no indication the lower courts ruled incorrectly and made no decision on the case’s merits,” said James Esseks, director of the ACLU’s LGBT and HIV Project.
Ingersoll said, “Curt and I now live our lives on-guard in a way that we didn’t before we were turned away from Arlene’s Flowers. No one should have to experience that, and we’re hopeful the Washington courts will again recognize that this case is clearly about discrimination, which has no place in the public marketplace or in our Constitution.”
In the Colorado case, Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, the U.S. Supreme Court had concerns about the agency’s anti-religious bias and sent it back to that state for a second look. However, the Supreme Court did not address the key issue of whether baker Jack C. Phillips discriminated against the couple.
Stutzman’s attorney, Kristen Waggoner of the Alliance Defending Freedom, said Ferguson has acted similarly to the Colorado commission by disparaging Stutzman’s beliefs and “punishing her” by suing her personally.
The five-year battle isn’t close to resolution. Waggoner said if the state upholds their decision, she will go back to the U.S. Supreme Court for a final ruling.
Stutzman, who started managing her mother’s shop in 1982, had provided flowers to the couple for almost a decade. When Ingersoll told her the men were planning a wedding, Stutzman refused to provide the flowers but suggested other florists who could help them.
Writing for the state court’s majority in 2017, Justice Sheryl Gordon McCloud said, they agreed with the couple that ‘this case is no more about access to flowers than civil rights cases in the 1960s were about access to sandwiches.”
Stutzman’s claim that her floral arrangements were a form of artistic expression that was protected by the First Amendment was also rejected by the court.