High court ruling will not affect similar Washington case
OLYMPIA — Attorney General Bob Ferguson offered the following statement in response to a U.S. Supreme Court decision in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission:
“Today’s U.S. Supreme Court decision may add some procedural steps to the Arlene’s Flowers case, but it will not alter its ultimate resolution.
“While we wait for next steps in our case, I want to be clear: Washington state law protects same-sex couples from discrimination based on their sexual orientation, the same way it protects Washingtonians from discrimination based on their religion, veteran or military status, disability, race and other protected classes. Nothing about today’s ruling changes that. I will continue to enforce our state law against discrimination.
“Washington law protects people from discrimination in places of public accommodation. Today’s ruling specifically notes that such laws are appropriate. All of us should be able to eat in a restaurant, rent an apartment or buy flowers without fear of discrimination based on how we worship, or who we love. If I go to a restaurant with my young twins to celebrate their First Communion, I should not have to worry about whether a restaurant will refuse to serve us because we are Catholic.
“In addition to significant factual differences in the cases, it’s important to understand that the high court’s ruling specifically relies on several items that are not present in our case. Notably, the court specifically found that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission’s treatment of that case ‘has some elements of a clear and impermissible hostility’ toward the religious beliefs of the business owner. We are confident Washington courts showed no such hostility.
“I have been clear from the beginning: My goal is to protect Washingtonians from discrimination. Before we filed our case, I sent a letter to the owner of Arlene’s Flowers, Barronelle Stutzman, asking her to comply with Washington law, which prohibits businesses from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation.
“Had she agreed to no longer discriminate, I would not have filed a lawsuit. Even after pursuing and prevailing in a lawsuit, I asked for only $1 in costs and fees. That is what the court awarded in our case, along with a modest $1,000 penalty for violating the law. That is all Mrs. Stutzman is obligated to pay as a result of the state’s lawsuit, aside from her own legal fees.
“A review of the case and our statements regarding it will find that my office has consistently said that Washington law does not allow businesses to offer services to opposite sex couples yet refuse those same services to same-sex partners. We have said my office will not stand for discrimination. Those statements are accurate.
“We do not yet know what the U.S. Supreme Court will deem appropriate in terms of next steps for the Arlene’s Flowers case.
“Often, when the high court issues a ruling on a case addressing a similar issue as other cases pending before the court, the court will issue a ‘grant, vacate, remand’ order. This means the court does not conduct any additional review of those cases to determine whether the ruling applies, but formally vacates the lower court ruling and sends the case back to the lower court for a second look. The lower court then re-evaluates the case in light of the new ruling, and determines whether that new ruling impacts the case.
“If the case is sent back to the Washington Supreme Court, I am confident they will determine that today’s ruling does not alter the conclusion of their earlier, unanimous decision upholding the civil rights of same-sex couples in our state.”
The Office of the Attorney General is the chief legal office for the state of Washington with attorneys and staff in 27 divisions across the state providing legal services to roughly 200 state agencies, boards and commissions. Visit www.atg.wa.gov to learn more.
Brionna Aho, Communications Director, (360) 753-2727; firstname.lastname@example.org