WASHINGTON – When it comes to creating products for same-sex weddings, the Supreme Court reasoned Monday that what's good for the baker is good for the florist.
After ruling that a Colorado baker was treated unfairly for refusing on religious grounds to create a wedding cake for a same-sex couple, the justices said a Washington state florist deserves another chance to challenge lower court rulings against her.
Rather than agree to hear the case of Arlene's Flowers next term or deny its owner's appeal outright, the high court sent the case back to Washington's state Supreme Court to determine whether Barronelle Stutzman was treated fairly by state courts.
That leaves unresolved the central dispute between proponents of gay rights and religious objectors: whether anti-discrimination laws in 22 states can require creative artists to serve same-sex weddings against their beliefs.
The court's 7-2 ruling this month in the case of Jack Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, did not resolve whether an array of same-sex marriage opponents can refuse commercial services available to opposite-sex couples.
In that case, the majority agreed that Phillips was met with "religious hostility" on the part of a state civil rights commission that ruled against him while allowing other bakers to turn away a customer seeking cakes with anti-gay messages.
Justice Anthony Kennedy said business owners generally cannot deny equal access to goods and services under anti-discrimination laws without creating "a community-wide stigma inconsistent with the history and dynamics of civil rights laws."
Like Phillips, Stutzman appealed a lower court's ruling that the state's anti-discrimination law required her to serve gay and straight couples equally.
After the justices sent the baker's case back to Colorado for further review, Stutzman's lawyers sought the same treatment, contending that the state trial court "has treated Barronelle with neither tolerance nor respect." Monday, they claimed an initial victory.
"The justices agree that her case, and the judgment against her, should be reconsidered," said the Alliance Defending Freedom, which has represented Phillips and Stutzman.
State officials and the American Civil Liberties Union representing the gay couple opposed Stutzman's effort and urged the court to deny her appeal.
"We are confident that the Washington state Supreme Court will rule once again in favor of the same-sex couple and reaffirm its decision that no business has a right to discriminate," said the ACLU's James Esseks.
The Supreme Court has weighed in twice before on the subject of same-sex marriage. In 2013, it ruled that the federal government must recognize gay and lesbian marriages in the 12 states that legalized them. In 2015, it extended same-sex marriage nationwide.