No gay wedding flowers yet: Reporters puzzle over what Baronelle Stutzman ruling means

StutzmanCaseSCOTUS.png

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to toss the Arlene’s Flowers case back to the Washington State Supreme Court instead of ruling on it wasn’t all bouquets for Barronelle Stutzman.

Get this: the highest court in the land dodged making a decisive ruling for Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission several weeks ago, then proceeded to tell  judges in Washington state to take a second look on the Arlene’s Flowers case in light of the vague Masterpiece decision.

In other words, did government officials in Washington state show the same kind of negative bias against Stutzman's religious convictions that was demonstrated in Colorado? That's the point of logic that journalists had to figure out.

Living just east of Seattle as I do, I’m betting the Washington Supreme Court will make exactly the same decision they did before, then lob the case back onto the U.S. Supreme Court’s side. Looking at the local media react, KIRO radio said:

Three weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the right of a Colorado baker to refuse to make a cake for a gay wedding, the court sent the similar Arlene’s Flowers v. Washington case back to Olympia for another look.
And according to Kristen Waggoner with the Alliance Defending Freedom, an organization that is working pro bono for the florist, Arlene’s Flowers owner Barronelle Stutzman of Richland is feeling “hopeful” about getting a second chance at the Washington State Supreme Court.
Waggoner explained to KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson that the decision essentially nullifies the Washington State Supreme Court’s previous ruling that Stutzman violated the Constitution in 2013 when she refused to do a floral arrangement for a gay wedding.

The Chicago Tribune had a better read:

After failing to fully resolve two difficult cases this term, the Supreme Court signaled Monday it was still not ready to decide whether a Christian shop owner can refuse service to a same-sex wedding or when some states have gone too far in gerrymandering their election maps for partisan advantage.
The justices said they would not hear two similar cases in the fall, instead sending them back to lower courts to be reconsidered under the hazy standards recently issued by the high court.
The brief orders, issued without registered dissents, suggest the justices are essentially deadlocked on both issues for now.

That definitely says it. The Washington Examiner gave us a few more tidbits, including how Supreme Court justices met in a closed-door session last week to discuss the florist case. The florist’s lawyers wanted it sent back to the state supreme court; attorneys for the two men who were getting married wanted the high court to reject the case altogether.

Thus, the Stutzman team got what it wanted. As our own tmatt noted the other day, there are conservative legal groups that are convinced that the Masterpiece Cakeshop case did give them new ammunition in these cases.

The Tri-City Herald, a newspaper covering three cities in south-central Washington including Stutzman’s home town of Richland, got quotes from the florist herself. Note the legal point that she stressed in these remarks.

In a Monday telephonic news briefing with Alliance Defending Freedom, Stutzman said she is very thankful and grateful that the country's high court has allowed her case to continue.
"The state of Washington has targeted me for over five years, and I find that I am here today because my state Attorney General is hostile to my religious beliefs," said Stutzman.
"I serve every customer that comes into my shop, but the government is trying to force me to create artistic expression that violates my beliefs," she continued.
"My faith guides me to treat everyone with respect and love, and I've done my best to live out those beliefs in my business. I have never turned anyone away no matter who they were or what they believed," she said.

Inslee tweeted that he was not “hostile” to religion here, but one must wonder at a governor who in March signed into law a bill mandating all health insurers operating in the state cover abortion no matter what their moral qualms may be.

On Monday, he tweeted that  of course he wasn’t a hostile kind of guy.

But Inslee’s past comments about Stutzman’s case have been anything but even-handed.

Nor were a number of publications that carried the Associated Press story along with a headline touting Stutzman as “anti-gay.” This was the moniker AP used, which shows an appalling lack of knowledge of the case by whomever was at AP’s copydesk on Monday. Stutzman has served gay customers in other contexts, and has worked with gay employees, but she doesn’t want to provide flowers for wedding rites.

So, does sitting out a religious rite make a merchant “anti-gay?”

AP would say “yes.”

The prize for the best lead goes to Richard Wolf’s USA Today story, which started with this:

WASHINGTON – When it comes to creating products for same-sex weddings, the Supreme Court reasoned Monday that what's good for the baker is good for the florist.
After ruling that a Colorado baker was treated unfairly for refusing on religious grounds to create a wedding cake for a same-sex couple, the justices said a Washington state florist deserves another chance to challenge lower court rulings against her.

This being ultra-blue Washington state, it’s unlikely that its supreme court will change its mind on Stutzman, the Seattle Times says. So, the florist could soon be back in DC again. 

Maybe by then, reporters will have thought of something else to call her besides "anti-gay." But I'm not holding my breath. Journalists could, of course, look for changes in her legal team's arguments -- changes that directly quote the Cakeshop case. What are the odds of that?

Please respect our Commenting Policy