Supreme Court throws out case against florist who refused to do arrangement for gay wedding

The Supreme Court on Monday threw out a lower court ruling that found a Washington state florist had intentionally discriminated against a same-sex couple for refusing to make flower arrangements for their wedding.

The justices vacated the ruling and sent the case back down to the Washington Supreme Court, giving the florist, Barronelle Stutzman, another chance to make her case in light of their decision earlier this month in favor of a Colorado baker, who refused to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex marriage

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This florist's case, known as Arlene’s Flowers Inc. v. Washington, mirrors that Colorado case in which the baker argued his cakes are an artistic expression of speech and religion that is protected by the First Amendment.

But the court sided with the baker on narrow grounds, ruling that he had been treated unfairly by the Colorado Civil Rights Commission when it first heard the case.

In delivering the court’s opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy said states are well within their power to enact anti-discrimination measures in public accommodations laws, but they have to enforce the laws fairly.

The Colorado commission, he said, had shown a clear and impermissible hostility toward the baker’s sincerely held religious beliefs.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which represented the couple in the case against the florist, emphasized that the court was not making a determination about the merits of the case.

By not taking the case and sending it back to the lower court, the ACLU argued the Supreme Court had set up the state supreme court in Washington to rule in favor of the couple.

“To be clear, the court made no indication the lower courts ruled incorrectly and made no decision on the case’s merits,” James Esseks, director of the ACLU’s LGBT and HIV Project, said in a statement.

“We are confident that the Washington State Supreme Court will rule once again in favor of the same-sex couple, and reaffirm its decision that no business has a right to discriminate. Our work to ensure LGBT equality is the law and the norm in all 50 states will continue.” 

The state Supreme Court must now look at whether Stutzman was treated fairly when the courts first heard her case.

--This report was updated at 11:26 a.m.