The New York Times this morning reports that the Washington State Supreme Court has ruled that "a florist who refused to sell flowers for a same-sex wedding cannot claim religious belief as a defense under the state’s anti-discrimination laws." Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson said the ruling made the point that “sexual orientation is a protected class — just like race, just like religion.”
The lawyer representing the florist said the case would be appealed to the US Supreme Court. Kristen Waggoner said that "because a flower arrangement is an artistic expression, the court effectively ruled that the state could regulate, with punitive government authority, what artists may sell. 'All creative professional expression is at risk,” she said.
The Times frames the story this way: At the "heart" of the ruling is "a very human story about Arlene’s Flowers in the small city of Richland, in southeast Washington, and what happened there in 2013 when Robert Ingersoll and Curt Freed started planning their wedding.
"The shop’s owner, Barronelle Stutzman, knew that Mr. Ingersoll and Mr. Freed were gay and had sold them flowers for years, but then refused to provide flowers for their wedding. Her Christian faith, which defined marriage as between a man and a woman, created a line, she said, that she could not cross. But in affirming a lower court’s finding, the Supreme Court said flatly that it agreed with the couple — flowers were not really the point."
Indeed, the court said that the case “is no more about access to flowers than civil rights cases in the 1960s were about access to sandwiches.” And Ferguson, the state's attorney general, said that the case did not mean that the flower shop is "required to sell wedding flowers. They are, however, required to sell wedding flowers equally if they choose to sell them.”
My first thought when reading this story was that I'm not sure when the Washington State court system became the center of the legal universe ... it certainly has been in the news a lot lately.
I have to be honest here. While I agree that sexual orientation should be a protected class, like race and religion, I do sort of wish that somehow this conflict could have been avoided. The gay couple could've gone to a different, more tolerant florist, or the florist could've taken the position that providing flowers to the event did not mean endorsing it.
But we don't live in that kind of world right now. Conflict is the name of the game these days.