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US Supreme Court kicks same-sex discrimination case back to Washington

The US Supreme Court again put off addressing the conflict between the First Amendment protections of free speech and free exercise of religion and protection from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation this morning as it issued an order sending Arlene’s Flowers, Inc. v. State of Washington, back to the Washington Supreme Court for reconsideration in light of the Court’s recent decision in Masterpiece Cakeshop.

Arlene’s Flowers, again brings the Court the question of whether state laws against discrimination require a business owner to provide services for events that may conflict with their religious beliefs, like same-sex weddings. Masterpiece Cakeshop presented substantially the same question however, the court failed to reach the discrimination issue on the merits.  In that case, the Court ruled instead that the state had violated the baker’s religious freedoms by its openly hostile treatment of his religious beliefs as he progressed through the system.

Though the “grant, vacate, remand” order is a common step when the Court rules on a similar case as one pending, it adds additional delay to a final determination of the issue of whether same-sex couples can legally be refused services. However, unlike the Colorado case, Arlene’s Flowers makes no similar allegation of religious bias or hostility against the Washington Human Rights Commission or the Attorney General’s office that prosecuted the case.

Says Attorney General Ferguson of the High Court’s ruling,

“The Washington State Supreme Court now has the job of determining whether the U.S. Supreme Court ruling affects this case. 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.”