Originally Published: June 6, 2018 6 a.m.
PHOENIX — A ruling Monday, June 4, by the U.S. Supreme Court, which sided with a Colorado baker on the issue of his right not to provide a wedding cake for a gay couple, may have only limited impact in Arizona.
Most significant, Arizona laws are nowhere near as broad as Colorado. They prohibit discrimination based on things like race, religion, gender and ethnic origin — but not sexual orientation.
And the Republican-controlled Legislature has rejected multiple efforts by Democrat lawmakers to add that to the list of protected classes.
But several communities do have their own local ordinances, including Tucson, Phoenix, Tempe and Sedona.
Less clear is whether anything the Supreme Court said on Monday will undermine efforts to enforce those laws or affect a case pending on that issue right now before the Arizona Court of Appeals.
Jonathan Scruggs, an attorney for the Alliance Defending Freedom, which brought the case on behalf of the Colorado baker, acknowledged the justices, in their 7-2 ruling, never reached the question of whether there is a First Amendment right of merchants to refuse to use their talents to advance a cause in which they do not believe. In this case, the marriage of a same-sex couple.
“They left it for another day,’’ he said.
Instead, Scruggs said, the justices said that people who say they have a “sincerely held religious belief’’ are entitled to have those claims examined — and examined fairly.
“You can’t just dismiss these claims out of hat as rank bigotry and rank discrimination,’’ he said. And Scruggs said that’s what’s at the heart of his organization’s lawsuit here on behalf of Joanna Duka and Breanna Koski, the owners of the Brush & Nib Studio.
In essence, the pair which does custom artwork wedding invitations, sued to void a Phoenix ordinance that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation. While they had not been charged with violating the ordinance — in fact, they had not even turned away a customer — the self-described evangelical Christians wanted a court to rule that they can’t be compelled to provide a product that would violate their religious beliefs under the threat of fines and jail.
A trial judge tossed out the claim. The Court of Appeals heard arguments in April and is likely to decide the case later this summer.
“Can you compel these two young artists to write wedding vows celebrating a same-sex marriage?’’ Scruggs said.
It’s even more complex than that.
“These two people will serve people from the LGBT community,’’ he said. “They’re happy to do so.’’
The issue, Scruggs said, is the message they’re being asked to write. And he said people should be free not to use their talents to put together certain messages, “whether it be racism or things along those lines,’’ he said, or even any message criticizing Christianity, “regardless of who asks.’’
Where Scruggs thinks the Supreme Court decision could make a difference is that the justices will not accept “displays of hostility and disrespect toward people of faith, in the context of marriage.’’
And he said the Phoenix ordinance, with its daily penalty of six months in jail and a $2,500 fine, crosses that line.
Phoenix officials, however, have argued the ordinance is not based on hostility toward those with religious beliefs but protects the rights of both business owners as well as those seeking services.
In Tucson, where there is a similar ordinance, city officials said they were unaware of any active litigation over the law there.