The Arizona Supreme Court has ruled against the city of Phoenix, saying it cannot require a local business to create wedding invitations for same-sex couples.
The ruling, issued by a 4-3 vote on Monday, comes nearly eight months after the high court sat on Jan. 22 to hear arguments in the case, Brush & Nib v. City of Phoenix.
The court had agreed last November to hear the case filed by two Valley wedding invitation designers, Breanna Koski and Joanna Duka, who said providing services to LGBTQ customers would go against their beliefs as evangelical Christians and violate their First Amendment rights.
The case attracted national attention from various groups, many of which filed friend of the court briefs to support one side or the other. Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich cited defense of the First Amendment in his brief to the court.
Koski and Duka had sued the city in 2016 over the ordinance. An Arizona Court of Appeals decision in June 2018 sided with Phoenix in the case, saying the city could use the ordinance to protect gay individuals and couples.
“The enduring strength of the First Amendment is that it allows people to speak their minds and express their beliefs without government interference. But here, the city effectively cuts off Planitiffs’ right to express their beliefs about same-sex marriage by telling them what they can and cannot say,” Justice Andrew Gould wrote for the majority.
In commenting Monday on the Supreme Court ruling, U.S. Rep. Greg Stanton, who served as Phoenix’s mayor when the city passed its sexual discrimination ordinance in 2013, said in an emailed statement that it was a "shameful day for Arizona."
"Four years after the U.S. Supreme Court held that same-sex couples have a fundamental right to marry, the state Supreme Court has decided that cities cannot safeguard those same couples from active and harmful discrimination by corporations. This is backwards, dark-ages thinking.
"Today’s decision will hurt real people. And after so many have worked so hard to show that Arizona is a welcoming place for everyone, this decision will harm our economy by sending the unfortunate message that discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation is still acceptable by some state leaders. That is the sad legacy of this decision and the court-packing scheme that paved the way for this result."
The Arizona Capitol Times and Capitol Media Services said in a report Monday that the justices did not offer blanket protection to all businesses to turn aside customers based on their sexual orientation. The report also noted that Gould said it leaves open the question of whether the two women could be forced to make other products, such as place cards for receptions, which do not specifically celebrate a marriage.
In its reaction to the decision, the city of Phoenix also focused on the narrow range of the court's ruling.
"The city of Phoenix’s anti-discrimination ordinance is still a legal, valid law and remains in effect. It currently affirms that everyone should be treated fairly and equally regardless of sexual orientation, race, religion, sex, gender or disability," Julie Watters, a city spokeswoman, said in an emailed statement. "On September 16, 2019, the Arizona Supreme Court made a very narrow ruling that one local business has the right to refuse to make custom wedding invitations for same-sex couples’ weddings that are similar to the designer’s previous products. This ruling does not apply to any other business in Phoenix. The city of Phoenix has had an anti-discrimination ordinance since 1964 to protect all residents and believes that everyone should be treated equally.
Separately, the Bishops of the Arizona Catholic Conference, also released a statement applauding the court ruling:
"The case involves two Christian artists who only want to create art that is consistent with their artistic and religious beliefs. Today’s ruling striking down a Phoenix law that had threatened their ability to do so by potential government coercion is, therefore, a positive development for religious liberty. After all, the freedom to practice one’s religion is fundamental to our way of living and should never be reduced to a 'freedom of worship' that limits these rights to the confines of church property... Thankfully, the reality still remains that Arizona has the ability to serve every person while making room for valid conscientious objection for the purposes of religious freedom."