The Arizona State Supreme Court has ruled Phoenix-based company Brush & Nib, which designs custom wedding invitations, may turn away same-sex couples looking to engage their services.
According to the Phoenix New Times, the owners of the design studio, Breanna Koski and Joanna Duka (pictured above), filed their lawsuit against the city of Phoenix in 2016 saying the city’s anti-discrimination ordinance violated their artistic and religious freedoms.
The ordinance, which prohibits businesses from refusing to offer services to protected classes, was expanded in 2013 to include sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression.
After the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its historic Obergefell ruling on same-sex marriage in June 2015, Koski and Duka said they didn’t want to design wedding invitations – or any custom art for that matter – for a same-sex ceremony because they believed it would be seen as an ‘endorsement’ of marriage equality.
It’s important to note that no one had asked Brush & Nib to design any wedding invitations for a same-sex wedding. The duo seems to have preemptively pursued legal action before there was a reason to do so.
Today’s ruling reverses multiple previous decisions against the business owners.
After losing in the Maricopa County Superior Court, the business owners went to the state Court of Appeals and lost there as well.
Writing for the majority in today’s 4-3 decision, Justice Andrew Gould said:
“The rights of free speech and free exercise, so precious to this nation since its founding, are not limited to soft murmurings behind the doors of a person’s home or church, or private conversations with like-minded friends and family. These guarantees protect the right of every American to express their beliefs in public. This includes the right to create and sell words, paintings, and art that express a person’s sincere religious beliefs.“
The women’s lawyer, Jonathan Scruggs with the virulently anti-LGBTQ law firm Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), told reporters his firm hopes to see the issue make it’s way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
ADF also represented Colorado baker Jack Phillips in his case where he refused to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple.
In 2018, SCOTUS handed down a narrow ruling in Phillips’ favor saying the Colorado Civil Rights Commission had allowed religious bias to come into play in finding the baker discriminated against the couple even though state law clearly bans discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Some LGBTQ activists, like Joe Jervis of JoeMyGod, have publicly speculated whether ADF created Brush & Nib as a means to challenge the Phoenix city ordinance.
Prior to the filing of the original lawsuit, the company didn’t appear to have a physical address, the artists’ social media accounts had only recently been created, and the company’s YouTube channel only had one introductory video posted and it was marked ‘unlisted.’
Things that make you go hmm…
The city of Phoenix issued a statement regarding today’s ruling, pointing out the decision does not strike down the local ordinance:
“The city of Phoenix’s anti-discrimination ordinance is still a legal, valid law and remains in effect. It currently affirms that everyone should be treated fairly and equally regardless of sexual orientation, race, religion, sex, gender or disability. On September 16, 2019, the Arizona Supreme Court made a very narrow ruling that one local business has the right to refuse to make custom wedding invitations for same-sex couples’ weddings that are similar to the designer’s previous products. This ruling does not apply to any other business in Phoenix. The city of Phoenix has had an anti-discrimination ordinance since 1964 to protect all residents and believes that everyone should be treated equally.”
Congressman Greg Stanton, who served as mayor of Phoenix when the city’s ordinance was expanded, issued a statement as well calling the decision “a shameful day for Arizona.”
Noting that the ruling will “hurt real people,” Stanton said the message of the decision sends a message “that discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation is still acceptable by some state leaders.”
— Maria Polletta🌵 (@mpolletta) September 16, 2019