On September 16, 2019, the Arizona Supreme Court ruled 4-3 that a Phoenix city ordinance cannot require a business to create same-sex wedding invitations in violation of their sincerely held religious beliefs.
Joanna Duka and Breanna Koski, owners of Brush & Nib Studio, LC, who create custom hand-made wedding cards, filed a pre-emptive lawsuit against the city of Phoenix to prevent enforcement of its Human Relations Ordinance against their business. The ordinance also stated that violations would constitute a Class 1 misdemeanor, meaning that violators could face up to six months of jail time.
The court found that even though Duka and Koski’s beliefs about same-sex marriage “may seem old-fashioned, or even offensive to some,” the “guarantees of free speech and freedom of religion are not only for those who are deemed sufficiently enlightened, advanced, or progressive. They are for everyone.”
Citing the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision National Institute of Family & Life Advocates v. Becerra (NIFLA), 138 S. Ct. 2361 (2018), the Arizona court said the government “must not be allowed to force persons to express a message contrary to their deepest convictions.”
The majority also said that the business was not seeking to discriminate based on LGBT status, but rather did not want to communicate a particular message. “The fact that Plaintiffs’ message-based refusal primarily impacts customers with certain sexual orientations does not deprive Plaintiffs of First Amendment protection.”
The decision indicates that the decision is specifically intended to protect the type of speech presented in the wedding invitation cards that the court was shown, and does not invalidate the application of the Phoenix ordinance to other businesses.
As this case did not arise within the context of federal law, which currently does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual-discrimination, and was based solely on a city ordinance, this particular case was resolved with finality by the Arizona Supreme Court. However, similar cases are expected to be taken to the U.S. Supreme Court which is slated to hear argument on whether Title VII civil rights protections extend to sexual orientation on October 8, 2019, in R.G. and G.R. Harris Funeral Homes v. EEOC and in Altitude Express Inc. v. Zarda.
Photo: Facebook Photo/Brush & Nib