Friday, June 07, 2019

Washington Supreme Court OK's Anti-Discrimination Law Enforcement Against Florist Opposed To Gay Marriage

In an important and wide-ranging 76-page opinion yesterday, the Washington state Supreme Court held that a florist shop's refusal to provide flowers for a same-sex wedding constitutes sexual orientation discrimination under the Washington Law Against Discrimination, and that enforcement of the law does not violate the constitutional rights of the floral shop owner.  This is the second time the case has been before the Washington Supreme Court.  After the first decision, the U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari, vacated the state court's judgment and  remanded for further consideration in light of the U.S. Supreme Court's Masterpiece Cakeshop decision. (See prior posting.) Yesterday in State of Washington v. Arlene's Flowers , Inc., (WA Sup. Ct., June 6, 2019), in a unanimous decision, the court concluded that the state adjudicatory bodies involved acted with religious neutrality. It refused to allow the challengers to expand their claims to allege selective enforcement based on religion by the Washington attorney general.

The Washington Supreme Court went on to hold that challengers cited no authority to support their argument that the state's public accommodation law protects proprietors of public accommodations to the same extent as it protects their patrons, and that a balancing test should be used. The court then rejected the florist's free speech claims, saying:
The decision to either provide or refuse to provide flowers for a wedding does not inherently express a message about that wedding. 
The Court also rejected challengers' religious free exercise claims under the U.S. and Washington state constitutions. It concluded that even if the state constitution requires strict scrutiny, that test is met:
[P]ublic accommodations laws do not simply guarantee access to goods or services. Instead, they serve a broader societal purpose: eradicating barriers to the equal treatment of all citizens in the commercial marketplace. Were we to carve out a patchwork of exceptions for ostensibly justified discrimination, that purpose would be fatally undermined.
Seattle Times reports on the decision. A press release by ADF says the floral shop owners will again ask for review by the U.S. Supreme Court. [Thanks to Tom Rutledge for the lead.]