Same-Sex Couples Score Victory in Phoenix Calligraphy Fight

(Bloomberg) -- A Phoenix law making it illegal for businesses to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation was upheld by an Arizona appeals court in a blow to a Christian-owned calligraphy company that sued for the right to deny wedding-related services to same-sex couples.

Brush & Nib Studio LLC must sell its hand-lettered announcements, invitations, menus and other wedding decorations to all customers or stop providing such services altogether, the Arizona Court of Appeals ruled Thursday, saying religion can’t be used as a "shield to discriminate."

Earlier this week the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of a Colorado baker who declined to make a wedding cake for a gay couple, but that decision didn’t address the underlying question whether a business can refuse service to gays and lesbians on religious and artistic grounds.

Brush & Nib, which was never asked to provide services for a gay wedding but sought to preempt such a request, alleged that Phoenix’s 2013 anti-discrimination law violated the First Amendment rights of its owners. The business sued for the right to post notices, including on its website, explicitly refusing services for same-sex weddings.

“Artists shouldn’t be forced under threat of fines and jail time to create artwork contrary to their core convictions," Brush & Nib’s lawyer, Jonathan Scruggs of Alliance Defending Freedom, said in a statement. "The court’s decision allows the government to compel two artists who happily serve everyone to convey a message about marriage they disagree with."

The group said it will appeal to the state’s top court.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which filed a brief in the Phoenix case, said Thursday’s ruling took into account the decision in the Colorado baker case and affirmed that local ordinances can protect the LGBT community from discrimination.

“We will continue to fight the dangerous notion that businesses have a constitutional right to discriminate," ACLU attorney Joshua Block said in a statement.

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