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Friday, May 12, 2017

Fighting Discrimination in the Wedding Marketplace

Written by  David Egan

You’ve probably never heard of Elane Photography or Arlene’s Flowers or Masterpiece Cakeshop, and you probably haven’t met Elaine Huguenin or Barronelle Stutzman or Jack Phillips.

In 2006, Vanessa Willock asked Elane Photography in Albuquerque, New Mexico, if they would take pictures of her commitment ceremony to another woman, Misti Collinsworth. The studio’s co-owner, Elaine Huguenin, replied that the studio would only photograph “traditional weddings.”

Barronelle Stutzman is a florist who owns Arlene’s Flowers in Richland, Washington. In March of 2013, Robert Ingersoll and Curt Freed, two of Stutzman’s long-time customers, asked her to do the flowers for their wedding. She refused, citing her Southern Baptist religious beliefs.

Jack Phillips owns a cake bakery in Lakewood, Colorado. In July of 2012 two men walked into his business, Masterpiece Cakeshop, and asked him to make a wedding cake for them. Phillips refused, saying “I don’t make cakes for same-sex weddings....” In a video on the Masterpiece Cakeshop website, Phillips refers to homosexuality as a “lifestyle” and also says, “I don’t make cakes for bachelor parties, I don’t make Halloween cakes or anything involving witchcraft or demons.”

In all three instances, the potential clients brought suit against the businesses. In all three cases, the Supreme Courts in their respective states ruled against the businesses.

The New Mexico Supreme Court ruled in August 2013 that Elane Photography violated a state anti-discrimination law by turning away the request to take photos of a same-sex commitment ceremony.

Elane Photography, represented by a group called the Alliance Defending Freedom, brought their case to the U.S. Supreme Court, claiming in their petition to ask the court to hear the case that their First Amendment right to freedom of speech, which they interpret as the right to decide what messages their photography conveys, was violated. In April 2014 the Supreme Court refused to hear the case, allowing the New Mexico Supreme Court ruling to stand.

On February 16th, 2017, the Washington state Supreme Court unanimously ruled against Stutzman and Arlene’s Flowers, holding that Stutzman’s floral arrangements do not constitute protected free speech, that she cannot claim religious belief as a defense under the state’s anti-discrimination laws, and that providing flowers to a same-sex wedding would not serve as an endorsement of same-sex marriage.

Justice Sheryl Gordon McCloud wrote, “This case is no more about the access to flowers than civil rights cases were about access to sandwiches.”

The florist, who is also represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom, has announced her intention to take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

In August 2015 the Colorado Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission that Masterpiece Cakeshop was in violation of the state’s public accommodations law and that Phillips constitutional rights to freedom of speech and the exercise of religion had not been violated.

The Masterpiece Cakeshop case is currently under consideration to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court. The expectation by court watchers is that the Supreme Court will decline to hear the case, letting the Colorado decision stand.

These cases, and others like them, are far from over.

Some conservative religious leaders and groups, the Alliance Defending Freedom among them, were hoping that the executive order that President Trump signed on May 4th would support their desire to allow them to refuse to do business with gay, lesbian, and other individuals, based upon their religious beliefs. But as the New York Times reports, “…the president’s order makes no mention of sexual orientation or identity.…  Instead, the order provides only a vague promise that it is the policy of Mr. Trump’s administration to protect religious liberty, with no mention of how it intends to do that.”

Attacks by conservatives against the anti-discrimination regulations put in place under President Obama are going to keep coming.

The Alliance Defending Freedom and other organizations raised nearly a quarter of a million dollars to defend Arlene’s Flowers and Masterpiece Cakeshop. There’s no question that they will keep raising money for their cause.

What can you do to fight all of this?

1) Support the American Civil Liberties Union. Attorneys for the ACLU supported the case against Elane Photography, and represent the same-sex couples in the cases against Arlene’s Flowers and Masterpiece Cakeshop. They need money, and lots of it, to beat back the challenges. Your course is simple: contribute to the work of the ACLU.

2) Be in touch with your elected officials at all levels: local, state, and national. Make your thoughts and feelings known. Write and, more importantly, call. Calling takes their time – which has more meaning than you might think – and brings them into dialogue. That matters.

3) Work toward supporting Democratic Congressional candidates in the mid-term elections in 2018. Do everything you can to end Republican control of the House of Representatives and the Senate. t Next time: More on choosing a wedding venue.

David Egan is the proprietor and steward of Chase Court, a historic Baltimore wedding and event venue. Visit chasecourt.com, and follow ChaseCourtWeddingVenue on Instagram and Facebook! Send your comments and questions to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

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