The Supreme Court on Friday announced that it would let stand a lower court's ruling in favor of a gay couple in Washington State who were refused service by their local flower shop when they sought arrangements for their wedding.
The case, Arlene's Flowers v. Washington, dates back to 2013, when the owner of the flower shop, Barronelle Stutzman, said that she could not provide flowers to longtime customer, Robert Ingersoll, and his upcoming wedding to his partner Curt Freed. Same-sex marriages had at that point been legal in Washington for about a year.
"Since 2012, same-sex couples all over the state have been free to act on their beliefs about marriage," Stutzman wrote at the time, "but because I follow the Bible’s teaching that marriage is the union of one man and one woman, I am no longer free to act on my beliefs."
Ingersoll and Freed and the state both sued the flower shop and won a $1,000 judgement against the shop, but ever since, Stutzman has been appealing with the help of conservative activists who hoped that the current Supreme Court's conservative majority would give them a clear ruling in favor of religious freedom.
The case mirrors one that the Supreme Court decided in 2015, Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, in which former Justice Anthony Kennedy's narrowly focused majority opinion in favor of the bakery — which had refused to make a cake for a same-sex union — focused on the commission's bias against religion.
The court previously kicked the Arlene's Flowers case back to the Washington Supreme Court for a second review in light of the court's ruling in Masterpiece, and the Washington Supreme Court again ruled in favor of the gay couple.
As the New York Times reports, in refusing to hear the Arlene's Flower's case, the court leaves open the question of whether these refusals of service on religious grounds are actually constitutional. The court gave no reason for refusing to hear the case, but Justices Thomas, Alito, and Gorsuch all said they would have heard the case.
Alito recently wrote a bombastic and dismissive concurring opinion — at 77 pages it was five times the length of Chief Justice John Roberts' majority opinion — in a religious freedom case pertaining to a Catholic organization in Philadelphia that refused to work with same-sex foster parents. Alito called the extremely narrow ruling "a wisp of a decision that leaves religious liberty in a confused and vulnerable state," and said it "might as well be written on the dissolving paper sold in magic shops."
The court dealt another victory to LGBTQ rights last week when it let stand a lower court ruling over transgender access to school bathrooms in keeping with their gender identity and not the gender they were assigned at birth.
Alito and Thomas in particular believe that the court has been too timid in taking cases pertaining to divisive social issues, with Alito writing in a dissent in another decision to kick a case back to the appeals circuit saying "what we should not do is take the easy out."
Photo: Ian Hutchinson