Supreme Court opts not to hear anti-discrimination suit involving florist who refused to serve gay couple

The U.S. Supreme Court has opted not to hear arguments in a case out of Washington state involving a small-town florist who cited her religious beliefs in refusing service to a same-sex couple who wanted to hire her for their wedding.

According to ABC News, the Friday decision to leave the case off the high court’s docket came “over the objections of three conservative justices” on the bench, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Neil Gorsuch, but the trio didn’t provide a reason for their dissent.

A case of religious liberty

According to CNBC, the “case dates back to 2013, when Barronelle Stutzman, the owner of Arlene’s Flowers, refused to provide flowers for the wedding ceremony of her longtime customers Curt Freed and Robert Ingersoll on the basis that her Southern Baptist faith does not recognize marriages between two men.”

The couple was backed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in its subsequent suit, which argued that the flower shop had violated anti-discrimination laws by refusing to serve them based on their sexual orientation.

The law does not provide an exception “even on the basis of sincere religious beliefs,” ABC notes.

The Supreme Court’s ruling means the final ruling on the case by the state high court will stand. That court had ruled in 2019 in favor of the couple, saying “[d]iscrimination based on same-sex marriage constitutes discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.”

“We therefore hold that the conduct for which Stutzman was cited and fined in this case — refusing her commercially marketed wedding floral services to Ingersoll and Freed because theirs would be a same-sex wedding — constitutes sexual orientation discrimination under the [law],” the court wrote, according to ABC.

Decision leaves questions unanswered

As CNBC reported, the case drew parallels to a 2018 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that held 7–2 in favor of a baker who had refused to make a cake under similar circumstances. The justice who authored the opinion in that case, Anthony Kennedy, “has since retired,” CNBC notes.

But while the cake shop case was similar, the Supreme Court declined to provide clear guidance on the matter to cite going forward. In this instance, the high court again passed up an opportunity to do so, Reuters noted, leaving the question of “under what circumstances can religious beliefs be cited to win exemption from penalties under anti-discrimination laws” unanswered.

Lawyers for the florist had said while she wouldn’t prepare custom floral arrangements for the couple, she was willing to provide pre-made arrangements for same-sex weddings. According to Reuters, Stutzman’s legal team also said the florist had referred the couple to several other providers in the area.

But they apparently weren’t satisfied.

“After Curt and I were turned away from our local flower shop, we canceled the plans for our dream wedding because we were afraid it would happen again. We had a small ceremony at home instead,” Ingersoll said after the federal Supreme Court declined to pick up the case, according to ABC. “We hope this decision sends a message to other LGBTQ people that no one should have to experience the hurt that we did.”

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