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Justices rule on Colorado same-sex wedding cake case. What does that mean for Arlene's Flowers?

Barronelle Stutzman, center, a Richland florist who was fined for denying service to a gay couple in 2013, was surrounded by supporters after a 2016 hearing before Washington's Supreme Court. Stutzman was sued for refusing to provide services for a same sex-wedding and says she was exercising her First Amendment rights.
Barronelle Stutzman, center, a Richland florist who was fined for denying service to a gay couple in 2013, was surrounded by supporters after a 2016 hearing before Washington's Supreme Court. Stutzman was sued for refusing to provide services for a same sex-wedding and says she was exercising her First Amendment rights. The Associated Press

The Supreme Court ruled narrowly Monday for a Colorado baker who wouldn’t make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple.

But the court is not deciding the big issue in the case, whether a business can invoke religious objections to refuse service to gay and lesbian people.

It's the question at the heart of a similar case involving Richland florist Barronelle Stutzman, who refused to create flower arrangements for the wedding of same-sex couple Robert Ingersoll and Curt Freed because of her religious beliefs.

The couple and the state attorney general's office sued Stutzman in a case that went to the state Supreme Court, where justices ruled that Stutzman violated the state's anti-discrimination law and the Consumer Protection Act.

Baronelle_Stutzman
Barronelle Stutzman, the owner of Arlene's Flowers in Richland, was found guilty of discrimination under Washington state law after she refused to provide flowers for a gay couple's wedding, citing her religious beliefs. She's appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled in a similar case Monday but left undecided if a business can invoke religious objections to refuse service to gays and lesbians.

She's appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which could decide this month what to do with her case.

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson said the high court's decision in the Colorado case "may lead to additional procedural steps," but it won't affect the ultimate outcome in the Arlene's Flowers matter.

“While we wait for next steps in our case, I want to be clear: 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. "Nothing about today’s ruling changes that. I will continue to enforce our state law against discrimination.".

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee also weighed in, saying, "Intolerance has no home in Washington state, and today’s Masterpiece Cakeshop decision by the Supreme Court does nothing to change that. Our effort to protect couples from unlawful discrimination was upheld in the Arlene’s Flowers case by our state Supreme Court last year, and remains the law of our land."

Reached Monday, Stutzman declined to comment on the Supreme Court's ruling in the Colorado case.

Her legal team, Alliance Defending Freedom, could not be reached for comment about Stutzman's case.

The Arizona-based group also is representing Jack Phillips, the Colorado baker.

In a statement Monday, a senior attorney with the group praised the Supreme Court's ruling.

“Government hostility toward people of faith has no place in our society, yet the state of Colorado was openly antagonistic toward Jack’s religious beliefs about marriage. The court was right to condemn that,” Kristen Waggoner said.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which represents the Colorado couple, said it was pleased the court did not endorse a broad religion-based exemption from anti-discrimination laws.

Ingersoll
Robert Ingersoll and Curt Freed sued Stutzman in a case that went to the state Supreme Court, where justices ruled that Baronelle Stutzman of Arlene's Flowers in Richland violated the state's anti-discrimination law and the Consumer Protection Act.

“The court reversed the Masterpiece Cakeshop decision based on concerns unique to the case but reaffirmed its longstanding rule that states can prevent the harms of discrimination in the marketplace, including against LGBT people,” said Louise Melling, the ACLU’s deputy legal director.

Emily Chiang, ACLU of Washington legal director, added that, “although we are disappointed the court did not rule in the same-sex couple’s favor in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case, we are gratified that the court acknowledged that laws like the Washington Law Against Discrimination play a vital role in our society by ensuring that people are not turned away from public accommodations on the basis of who they are or who they love."

The Colorado case started when same-sex couple Charlie Craig and Dave Mullins visited Phillips' Masterpiece Cakeshop in suburban Denver for a wedding cake. Phillips told them he would not create a cake for a same-sex wedding.

Craig and Mullins complained to the Colorado Civil Rights Commission.

The Supreme Court justices’ limited ruling turned on what the court described as anti-religious bias on that commission when it ruled against Phillips. The justices voted 7-2 that the commission violated Phillips’ rights under the First Amendment.

Colorado law prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and the commission concluded that Phillips’ refusal violated the law. Colorado state courts upheld the determination.

But when the justices heard arguments in December, Justice Anthony Kennedy was plainly bothered by comments by a commission member. The commissioner seemed “neither tolerant nor respectful of Mr. Phillips’ religious beliefs,” Kennedy said in December.

That same sentiment suffused his opinion on Monday. “The commission’s hostility was inconsistent with the First Amendment’s guarantee that our laws be applied in a manner that is neutral toward religion,” he wrote.

Liberal justices Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan joined the conservative justices in the outcome. Kagan wrote separately to emphasize the limited ruling.

Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor dissented.

Kennedy said in his majority opinion that the larger issue “must await further elaboration” in the courts.

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