Supreme Court Orders New Look at Florist’s Appeal on Gay Weddings

(Bloomberg) -- The U.S. Supreme Court reopened the case of a florist who says she shouldn’t have to provide flowers for same-sex weddings, telling a lower court to reconsider an order that required her to comply with a Washington state anti-discrimination law.

The high court pointed to its weeks-old decision overturning a similar order against a Colorado baker who refused on religious grounds to make cakes for gay weddings. That ruling faulted Colorado officials for hostility toward the baker’s faith.

By kicking the case back to the Washington courts, rather than taking it up themselves, the justices signaled they aren’t ready to dive back into the subject. The Colorado ruling left open core questions about whether and when business owners can turn away customers on religious or free-speech grounds.

The florist case involves Barronelle Stutzman, a Southern Baptist who owns Arlene’s Flowers and Gifts in Richland, Washington. State officials sued her after she refused to sell flower arrangements for the wedding of Robert Ingersoll and Curt Freed.

A trial judge ordered Stutzman to start serving same-sex couples as long as she was providing flowers for heterosexual weddings. The Washington Supreme Court upheld the order, saying its anti-discrimination laws help ensure "equal treatment of all citizens in the commercial marketplace."

It’s not clear the Washington court will reach a different conclusion the second time around. The Supreme Court’s Colorado ruling hinged on comments by a member of the state’s civil rights commission that religion had been used to justify slavery and the Holocaust.

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson said nothing similar occurred in the florist case. "We are confident Washington courts showed no such hostility," he said in a statement last week.

Stutzman’s attorney, Kristen Waggoner of the advocacy group Alliance Defending Freedom, disagreed, saying Ferguson "has repeatedly and overtly demeaned" the florist’s faith. Waggoner, who also represented Colorado baker Jack Phillips, said Ferguson had compared Stutzman’s religious beliefs to racial discrimination.

"The attorney general’s efforts to punish her because he dislikes her beliefs about marriage are as impermissible as Colorado’s attempt to punish Jack," Waggoner said.

The case is Arlene’s Flowers v. Washington, 17-108.

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