Florist With Gay-Marriage Objection Rejected by High Court

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The U.S. Supreme Court turned away a long-pending appeal from a florist who won’t provide flowers for same-sex weddings, declining to rejoin a divisive debate at the intersection of gay and religious rights.

Acting a day after releasing the final opinions of their term, the justices refused to hear arguments from Barronelle Stutzman, a Southern Baptist woman who owns Arlene’s Flowers and Gifts in Richland, Washington. A lower court ordered her to comply with a state anti-discrimination law and pay a $1,000 penalty.

Justices Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch and Samuel Alito said they would have heard the appeal -- one short of the required four. Neither they nor the court as a whole made any comment.

The appeal aimed to resolve issues the Supreme Court ducked in a 2018 case involving a Colorado baker who refused for religious reasons to make cakes for gay weddings. The court backed the baker on narrow grounds while sidestepping larger questions about whether and when business owners can turn away customers.

Stutzman had been trying for more than four years to get the Supreme Court to take up her case. Her latest appeal was on hold while the Supreme Court considered a religious-rights case over Catholic Social Services’ exclusion from part of Philadelphia’s foster-care program because of the charity’s refusal to work with same-sex couples.

The court sided with Catholic Social Services last month, again ruling on narrow grounds.

State officials sued Stutzman after she refused in 2013 to sell flower arrangements for the wedding of Robert Ingersoll and Curt Freed. Stutzman said providing flowers for the ceremony would violate her faith.

A trial judge ordered Stutzman to serve same-sex couples as long as she was providing flowers for heterosexual weddings. The Washington Supreme Court twice upheld the order -- the second time after the U.S. Supreme Court ordered reconsideration of it in light of the Colorado ruling.

In the Colorado case, the Supreme Court said state officials had shown unconstitutional hostility toward the baker’s faith. The Supreme Court’s composition has changed significantly since then, with Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett succeeding Justices Anthony Kennedy and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, both of whom championed gay rights.

The case is Arlene’s Flowers v. Washington, 19-333.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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