Arizona Supreme Court: Anti-LGBTQ Design Firm Can Discriminate Against Same-Sex Couples

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.”

Anti-LGBTQ Baker Agrees To A Ceasefire With Colorado Civil Rights Commission

Jack Phillips of Masterpiece Cakeshop

Anti-LGBTQ baker Jack Phillips has agreed to call it a draw with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission.

Phillips was brought up on charges by the commission for declining to make a pink and blue cake in 2017 celebrating a transgender woman’s transition.

Autumn Scardina, a Denver attorney, asked Phillips to make a blue and pink cake celebrating both her birthday and the anniversary of her transition.

The commission found, with probable cause, that Phillips had discriminated against Scardina due to her gender identity, a violation of the state’s public accommodation laws.

Phillips filed a counter-lawsuit against the commission alleging persecution for his Christian faith.

On Tuesday, Phillips’ attorneys and Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser mutually agreed to drop both legal actions.

Weiser told the local CBS news affiliate that both sides “agreed it was not in anyone’s best interest to move forward with these cases.”

Regarding whether religious beliefs can trump public accommodation laws intended to protect LGBTs from discrimination in his state, Weiser said, “The larger constitutional issues might well be decided down the road, but these cases will not be the vehicle for resolving them.”

“Equal justice for all will continue to be a core value that we will uphold as we enforce our state’s and nation’s civil rights laws,” he added.

But attorneys for the anti-LGBTQ legal organization Alliance Defending Freedom, which represented Phillips, claimed there was “overwhelming evidence” of hostility towards Phillips by the state.

The Denver Post reports Phillips issued a statement saying, “Today is a win for freedom.”

“I have and will always serve everyone who comes into my shop,” added Phillips. “I simply can’t celebrate events or express messages that conflict with my religious beliefs.”

Phillips famously waged a six-year battle with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission after turning away a gay couple seeking a cake to celebrate their marriage in 2012.

The fight went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court where Phillips won in a narrow ruling saying the commission showed anti-religious bias in determining its sanctions on Phillips.

The issue of religious freedoms over LGBT civil rights was not resolved in that case.

The Denver Post notes that the agreement between Phillips and the CCRC does not preclude Scardina from moving ahead with any legal action of her own.

(h/t Denver Post, CBSDenver)

Anti-LGBT Arizona Artists “Prepared To Go To Jail” If They Lose State Supreme Court Appeal

Joanna Duka and Breanna Koski 

Having already lost twice in court, the owners of a wedding invitation design firm in Phoenix, Arizona, have appealed to the state Supreme Court to determine if a public accommodation ordinance that protects LGBTQ people from discrimination violates their First Amendment rights of free religion and free speech.

The co-owners of Brush & Nib Studio, Breanna Koski and Joanna Duka, said in an interview with conservative radio host Todd Starnes they are prepared to go to jail if the state’s high court rules against them.

“I mean that’s that’s a possibility that we’re hoping we won’t have to face,” Duka told Starnes. “We’re hopeful that the Arizona Supreme Court will affirm some rights of artists that will never violate our beliefs and our conscience.”

They are being represented at the state Supreme Court by the virulently anti-LGBTQ law firm, Alliance Defending Freedom.

It’s important to note that no gay couple has asked Brush & Nib Studio for wedding services, nor has anyone has filed a complaint against the artists with the city.

The duo decided to file their initial lawsuit, in May 2016, as a pre-emptive strike of sorts against Phoenix’s non-discrimination ordinance.

The Phoenix City Council added sexual orientation and gender identity to its existing ordinance in 2013.

After losing in the Maricopa County Superior Court, the artists went to the state Court of Appeals. And lost there, too.

Now, the Arizona Supreme Court has agreed to hear their appeal.

The city of Phoenix issued the following statement regarding the issue:

“Phoenix’s non-discrimination ordinance is about access to goods and services on equal terms. The ordinance does not tell businesses what to write, what to think, or what to believe. The city’s legal team made this point to the Arizona Supreme Court. Four judges have already agreed that businesses in Phoenix must be open to everyone.

“Those legal rulings protect all and confirm that everyone should be treated fairly and equally regardless of sexual orientation, race, gender, religion, or disability. The city of Phoenix will continue to observe these shared community values, allowing the non-discrimination ordinance to protect and respect the rights of all residents.”

(screen capture)

Some LGBTQ activists, like Joe Jervis of JoeMyGod, have wondered aloud if the company might have been created by Alliance Defending Freedom to surreptitiously present a challenge to the Phoenix ordinance.

When their initial lawsuit was filed in 2016, the company didn’t appear to have a physical address. And the artists’ social media accounts were only months old, making it credible that the company might have been created just to file the lawsuit.

The video below, titled “Getting to Know the Artists of Brush & Nib,” was uploaded to YouTube just days before the lawsuit was filed, and the comments section is closed.

Additionally, the video is listed as “Unlisted.”

Now, why have a “getting to know” video be “unlisted” on YouTube?

#ThingsThatMakeYouGoHmm…

In the video, the artists make a point to say their teaming up was a “God thing,” “beautiful things just come from God,” and how “special” they view their work on wedding invitations.

JoeMyGod also notes that the firm has an online store on Etsy despite the fact the website has a very clear anti-discrimination policy that protects LGBT people.

Poll: 68% Of Americans Favor Businesses That Show Support For LGBTQ Equality

Last June, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of anti-LGBTQ baker, Jack Phillips of Masterpiece Cakeshop, many saw the decision as a symbolic setback for the LGBTQ community.

But a new Harris Poll shows a majority of Americans feels the federal government and private sector should do more to protect LGBTQ rights.

The survey of over 2,000 U.S. adults indicates 70% support a federal law protecting LGBTQ people from discrimination in housing, employment, public accommodations and credit.

Respondents overwhelmingly said businesses should not discriminate against people based on their sexual orientation (81%) or their gender identity (80%).

In fact, 75% of Americans feel that when a business opens it’s doors to the public, everyone should be served equally.

The poll also showed 68% of Americans say they would favor, and be more likely to shop at, businesses that openly support LGBTQ equality.

But its not all sunny news, as 20% of of those polled believe businesses should be able to deny services based on race, ethnicity, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion or disability.

And 25% say business owners should be allowed to refuse services to certain customers if that would be in opposition to their religious beliefs.

Last November, a campaign known as Open To All was launched in order to boost awareness of discriminatory business practices.

Businesses who support the campaign make public their pledge to treat everyone fairly and can display signs in their windows with the hashtag #OpenToAll.

Arizona Appeals Court Upholds Ruling Against Anti-Gay Print Shop

(images screen captured from Brush & Nib promotional video)

In the first court case since the ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court this week regarding an anti-gay baker in Colorado, the Arizona Court of Appeals has rejected the argument that businesses can discriminate against a customer based on their sexual orientation.

In 2013, the Phoenix City Council added sexual orientation and gender identity to an already existing non-discrimination ordinance making it illegal to discriminate in the areas of housing, employment, and public accommodations.

A small printing business in Phoenix, Brush & Nib Studio, which designs and prints wedding invitations, asked a judge to override the city’s ordinance to allow them to legally discriminate against LGBTs.

It’s important to note that NO gay couple had asked Brush & Nib for wedding services.

A three-judge panel today handed down an unanimous ruling citing several federal court rulings from across the nation which upheld laws similar to Arizona’s public accommodation laws.

In the ruling, Judge Lawrence Winthrop wrote, “In light of these cases and consistent with the United States Supreme Court’s decisions, we recognize that allowing appellants based on sexual orientation would constitute grave and continuing harm.”

One of the court rulings referenced in today’s decision is the one involving the Colorado baker who refused to create a wedding cake for a gay couple.

But the ruling from SCOTUS only concluded that the baker had not gotten a fair hearing before the Colorado Civil Rights Board. The high court never addressed the question of whether his religious beliefs allowed him to legally discriminate against same-sex couples.

Back in May 2016, blogger JoeMyGod noted that when the Phoenix lawsuit was filed the company didn’t appear to have a physical address, and the artists’ social media accounts were only months old, making it credible that the company might have been created just to file the lawsuit and challenge the city’s ordinance.

The video below, titled “Getting to Know the Artists of Brush & Nib,” was uploaded to YouTube just days before the lawsuit was filed, and the comments section is closed.

In the video, the two artists make a point to say their teaming up was a “God thing,” “beautiful things just come from God,” and how “special” they view their work on wedding invitations.

Interestingly, the video is listed as “Unlisted.”

Now, why would a business have a “getting to know” video be “unlisted” on YouTube?

Isn’t that weird?

“Funeral Home” – Civil Rights Groups Highlights How Public Accommodation Laws Affect LGBTs

As the U.S. Supreme Court considers its ruling in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case, the Movement Advancement Project shares this message asking folks to consider how public accommodation laws affect LGBT Americans on a day-to-day basis.

Via press release:

Inspired by a real legal case, Funeral Home, produced by MAP as part of the Open to All campaign, depicts a grieving widow who has just lost her spouse, and she and her family are turned away from a funeral home and refused burial services for her wife.

The ad is meant to show how a loss in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case would open the door to much wider ranging forms of discrimination—including what the grieving widow in the ad faced.

Open to All is the nationwide public engagement campaign designed to raise awareness about how our nation’s nondiscrimination laws are under attack—and to defend the bedrock principle that when businesses open their doors to the public, they should be Open to All. Learn more and find out how you can get involved.

Watch the spot below, and don’t think for a moment this isn’t already a reality in some towns.

Hawaii Appeals Court Rules Against B&B For Turning Away “Detestable” Lesbian Couple

Good news from the Aloha State!

Hawaii’s Intermediate Court of Appeals upheld a lower court ruling on Friday that found the owner of Aloha Bed & Breakfast discriminated against California couple Diane Cervelli and Taeko Bufford when the owner refused to rent them a room based on their sexual orientation.

Hawaii has a very clear public accommodation law which requires equal access to facilities and services regardless of race, gender, religion or sexual orientation.

So, it probably didn’t help business owner Phyllis Young when she admitted the turned the women away because, in her view, homosexual relationships were “detestable” and “defiled the land.”

Way to lose a court case, Phyllis.

LGBT legal eagles Lambda Legal represented the couple in the lawsuit.

“This has never been a case about the money,” said Jennifer Pizer of Lambda Legal. “It’s really been about a civil rights law that needs to protect everyone, it needs to be real and it needs to be followed. When people come for a vacation or other reasons to visit in Hawaii, everyone should be treated equally.”

(source)

Unanimous Ruling From Washington State Supreme Court Against Anti-Gay Florist

Barronelle Stutzman


ABC News reports that Barronelle Stutzman, the Washington state florist who refused to sell wedding flowers to a same-sex couple in 2013, has lost again in court.

This time it was a unanimous ruling from the nine Washington state Supreme Court justices who ruled Stutzman discriminated against the gay couple in 2013 according to the state’s public accommodation laws.

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson and the couple sued her, saying she broke state anti-discrimination and consumer protection laws, and the lower court agreed.

Today, the state’s highest court upheld that verdict.

Stutzman’s supporters maintain the ruling could “bankrupt” her. The penalty for the public accommodation violation is $1,000. Virulently anti-gay Alliance Defending Freedom is handling her court case for free.

Stutzman’s defense was that she had previously sold flowers to the couple, but had to refrain on wedding flowers due to her personal religious beliefs. She feels selling flowers for a wedding she is not attending amounts to “promoting” or “supporting” same-sex marriage.

Stutzman’s lawyers say they will now take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Colorado Supreme Court Upholds Ruling Against Anti-Gay Masterpiece Cakeshop

The haters lose yet again as the Colorado Springs Supreme Court upheld an appellate court ruling that held the Masterpiece Cakeshop violated state public accommodation laws when the bakery refused to sell a same-sex couple a cake for a private wedding ceremony.

From the ACLU:

“The highest court in Colorado today affirmed that no one should be turned away from a public-facing business because of who they are or who they love,” said Ria Tabacco Mar, staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union’s LGBT Project, who argued the case. “We all have a right to our personal beliefs, but we do not have a right to impose those beliefs on others and harm them. We hope today’s win will serve as a lesson for others that equality and fairness should be our guiding principles and that discrimination has no place at the table, or the bakery as the case may be.”

In 2012, Colorado residents David Mullins and Charlie Craig, along with Charlie’s mother Deborah Munn, visited Masterpiece Cakeshop to order a wedding cake. Mullins and Craig planned to marry in Massachusetts and then celebrate with family and friends back home. Masterpiece Cakeshop owner Jack Phillips informed the couple that, because of his religious beliefs, it was his standard business practice to refuse to provide cakes to customers for same-sex weddings. Phillips has turned away several other couples for the same reason.

Colorado’s Anti-Discrimination Act prohibits businesses, such as Masterpiece Cakeshop, from refusing service based on factors including race, sex, national origin, or sexual orientation. The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Colorado filed suit on behalf of Mullins and Craig in 2013. In December 2013, an administrative judge ruled that the bakery had illegally discriminated against the couple. In 2014, the Colorado Civil Rights Commission affirmed that ruling. Masterpiece Cakeshop appealed. In a unanimous decision issued on August 15, 2015, the Colorado Court of Appeals ruled that the bakery unlawfully discriminated against David Mullins and Charlie Craig by refusing to sell them a cake for their wedding reception.

When businesses and other institutions that serve the public have sought exemptions to laws barring discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, the courts have held that businesses are required to comply with anti-discrimination laws. The courts have ruled without regard to whether LGBT people could have obtained the goods or service elsewhere. Instead the courts have recognized the harm to equal opportunity if lesbian and gay people can be turned away from businesses otherwise open to the public because of who they are.