Last February, the Washington State Supreme Court shot down arguments from anti-gay groups when it ruled that a florist violated state anti-discrimination laws when she refused to provide flowers for a gay wedding.
This year, the U.S. Supreme Court took the opposite approach. In a case involving a Colorado baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a gay couple, the court sided with the baker. But the ruling was narrowly focused on the Colorado Civil Rights Commission's treatment of the baker, leaving open questions about similar cases.
So, what exactly does the Colorado baker ruling mean for the Washington florist case? SCOTUS isn't saying.
The court today vacated the earlier decision in the Washington case and remanded it back to the Washington State Supreme Court "for further consideration in light of" the Colorado cake shop case.
The Washington case began in 2013 when Curt Freed and Robert Ingersoll asked Arlene's Flowers in Richland to provide flowers for their wedding. The owner, Barronelle Stutzman, had regularly provided flowers for the couple, but refused to arrange flowers for their wedding. In an interview with The Stranger that year, Stutzman said that was "because of my relationship with Jesus." Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson and the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington sued Stutzman.
In court, Stutzman's lawyers argued that arranging flowers is a form of protected speech. The state Supreme Court didn't buy it. In its unanimous ruling, the court wrote, "Public 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."
After the ruling, Stutzman and the rightwing Alliance Defending Freedom promised to appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. Today's decision sends their arguments back to Washington State.
In a statement, Ferguson said his office "expected this procedural step."
"The Washington State Supreme Court now has the job of determining whether the U.S. Supreme Court ruling affects this case," Ferguson said. "I am confident they will come to the same conclusion they did in their previous, unanimous ruling upholding the civil rights of same-sex couples in our state."