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US Supreme Court rejects appeal from Christian florist who refused to do same-sex wedding flowers

Emma Powys Maurice July 2, 2021
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Man holding a Pride Flag in front of the US Supreme Court building. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty)

The US Supreme Court has declined to hear an appeal from a Christian florist who was fined after she refused to make a flower arrangement for a same-sex wedding.

The case dates back to 2013, when Washington florist Barronelle Stutzman refused to provide flowers for the same-sex wedding of her long-time client, Robert Ingersoll.

Washington state imposed a $1,000 fine on Stutzman for violating an anti-discrimination law, and the state’s attorney general obtained a court order barring her from discriminating against same-sex couples in the future.

When this order was upheld by the Washington Supreme Court in June, Stutzman refused to back down and asked the country’s highest court to step in.

“The court branded Barronelle a ‘discriminator’ and ordered her to attend, facilitate, and create custom floral art celebrating all marriages or none,” Kristen Waggoner, an attorney for Stutzman, claimed in her petition to the court.

In court papers, Stutzman’s lawyers said she and Ingersoll were friends before the incident and that she had frequently provided him with flowers for various purposes. Her lawyers also said she would sell pre-made arrangements for use in same-sex weddings, but not custom arrangements.

“Like all artists, Barronelle speaks through her custom creations,” Waggoner said, describing them as “multimedia works incorporating flowers.”

She argued that forcing her client to provide custom flower arrangements for same-sex wedding ceremonies that aren’t recognised by her Baptist faith is unconstitutional.

But on Friday (2 July) the US Supreme Court rebuffed Stutzman’s appeal, upholding the earlier judgement against the florist.

The appeal had been on hold while the Supreme Court considered a separate religious rights case concerning a Catholic foster care agency that declined to work with same-sex couples.

On June 17 the judges ruled unanimously in favour of the foster care agency, but left certain legal questions unresolved.

“The Court’s decision to leave [Stutzman’s] lower-court ruling intact sends a couple of different messages,” said Steve Vladeck, CNN Supreme Court analyst and professor at the University of Texas School of Law.

“On one hand, the Court is refusing to go any further than it went in the Catholic Social Services decision from last week, and is thereby siding with the State of Washington’s enforcement of its anti-discrimination laws over religious objections.

“On the other hand, it’s going to remain more than a little unclear when states can and cannot require secular businesses to provide services to those whose practices offend the owners’ religious beliefs. The Court isn’t willing to take that up now, but it’s surely going to have to sooner rather than later.”

Related topics: supreme court

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