Thursday, February 19, 2015

Court Says Florist Violated Washington Public Accommodation Law In Refusing Flowers For Same-Sex Wedding

In State of Washington v. Arlene's Flowers, Inc., (WA Super. Ct., Feb. 18, 2015), a Washington state trial court held that a florist shop violated the Washington Law Against Discrimination and the state's Consumer Protection Act when the shop's owner advised a customer that for religious reasons she could not provide flower arrangements for his same-sex wedding ceremony. (See prior related posting.) The court rejected defendants' argument that application of the law to require the shop to provide flower arrangements for a same-sex wedding violates their free expression and free exercise rights.  Addressing the 1st Amendment speech claim, the court said:
Defendants offer no persuasive authority in support of a free speech exception (be it creative, artistic, or otherwise) to anti-discrimination laws applied to public accommodations.
Defendants' strongest constitutional argument turned on the Washington state constitution's free exercise clause, which gives greater protection than the 1st Amendment.  However the court rejected defendants' claims, concluding that even if the laws impose a substantial burden on defendants' religious exercise, the state has a compelling interest in combating discrimination in public accommodations. The court went on to reject defendants' argument that a more narrowly tailored approach would allow defendants to deny goods and services on the basis of sexual orientation and merely refer the customer to a non-discriminating business.  The court said: "This rule would, of course, defeat the purpose of combatting discrimination...."

Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson welcomed the decision, saying: "The law is clear: If you choose to provide a service to couples of the opposite sex, you must provide the same service to same-sex couples."