Lambda Legal Applauds Supreme Court Rejection of Anti-LGBT Religious Exemption Case

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July 2, 2021
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The U.S. Supreme Court today declined to hear the appeal by a Richland, WA, florist of a Washington Supreme Court ruling that the florist violated the Washington Law Against Discrimination when she refused to sell flowers to a same-sex couple for their wedding. The appeal is before the Court after a second thorough review by the Washington State high court in 2019, as directed by the U.S. Supreme Court three years ago following its narrow ruling in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Human Rights Commission, which found in favor of a Colorado baker who refused to sell a wedding cake to a same-sex couple based on perceived anti-religion bias of local civil rights enforcers against the baker.  

Lambda Legal Senior Counsel and Law and Policy Director Jennifer C. Pizer issued the following statement:

“In the case at issue in today’s action – Arlene’s Flowers, Inc. v. Washington – we are witness yet again to the unrelenting anti-LGBT crusade being waged by self-described Christian fundamentalist legal groups aiming to chip away at the hard-won gains of LGBT people by creating gaping exemptions with which discrimination swallows civil rights rules. The constitutional protections for religious freedom and free speech were never intended as weapons of discrimination for those operating businesses serving the general public. The U.S. Supreme Court here did what the justices should have done three years ago after Masterpiece Cakeshop: Reaffirm important, longstanding precedent and deny the case yet another hearing.

“The Washington Supreme Court correctly decided this case twice, writing that ‘to carve out a patchwork of exceptions for ostensibly justified discrimination’ would fatally undermine the vital societal purpose of public accommodations laws. But opponents of LGBT civil rights are not giving up. From Oregon, where one anti-gay legal group claims a bakery is entitled to refuse to serve Lambda Legal’s clients, a lesbian couple, to Philadelphia, where another anti-gay legal group fought Philadelphia's commitment to nondiscrimination in the City’s child welfare programs, the attacks on equality continue. We will remain vigilant against all of these efforts to carve out licenses to discriminate.”

Arlene’s Flowers v. Washington began as a lawsuit filed by a gay couple – Robert Ingersoll and Curt Freed – against Arlene’s Flowers after the owner, Baronelle Stutzman, refused to create floral arrangements for their wedding. The State of Washington followed with its own lawsuit against Arlene’s Flowers charging the business with violating the Washington Consumer Protection Act. And, in a third lawsuit, Stutzman sued Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson. The cases were consolidated into Arlene’s Flowers v. Washington. 

In February, 2015, a Washington Superior Court judge ruled against Stutzman. She appealed to the Washington Supreme Court, which in February 2017 unanimously ruled against her, holding that her floral arrangements do not constitute protected free speech, and that treating same-sex couples equally by doing business with them is not a compelled endorsement of their marriages, writing “this case is no more about access to flowers than the civil rights cases were about access to sandwiches."

In 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court required the Washington Supreme Court to conduct another check for potential anti-religion bias in the government’s administrative handling of the case. The Washington court did so and confirmed in June 2019 that there had been no improper bias, and that the business’s justifications for its discrimination are legally invalid. The business then requested U.S. Supreme Court review a second time.  Today’s order brings the dispute to an end, confirming that Washington can enforce its non-discrimination law as its legislature intended. 

Lambda Legal submitted a friend-of-the-court brief to the Washington Supreme Court in this case, with co-counsel Dan Shih and Lindsey Godfrey Eccles of the Susman Godfrey LLP law firm.  Disability Rights Washington, El Centro de la Raza, National Asian Pacific American Bar Association, PFLAG Seattle, Pride Foundation, QLaw Association of Washington, South Asian Bar Association of Washington and Washington Women Lawyers joined the brief.

Read the Washington Supreme Court’s 2019 decision here:  https://www.lambdalegal.org/in-court/legal-docs/arlene_wa_20190606_opinion

Read Lambda Legal’s friend-of-the-court brief here: http://www.lambdalegal.org/in-court/legal-docs/arlene_wa_20160208_amicus

More information about the case is here: https://www.lambdalegal.org/in-court/cases/ingersoll-and-freed-v-arlenes-flowers

Information about Lambda Legal’s Oregon case, Klein v. Bureau of Labor & Industries, is here:  https://www.lambdalegal.org/in-court/cases/klein-v-or-bureau-of-labor-and-industries