The US Supreme Court must rule on the "Gay Flowers" Case

Another gay discrimination legal case regarding the provision of services extended to customers has been ruled on in Washington following the gay discrimination case in respect of Masterpiece cake shop.  The Supreme Court in Washington ruled in the case where a gay man, Robert Ingersoll, visited a florist where he was a regular and long term customer and was refused service in respect of the floral arrangements for his wedding.   Barronelle Stuzman, the owner of Arlene’s flowers, the florist shop in question, issued a statement saying that despite the fact that she considers that she serves everyone, she found herself unable to create “custom floral arrangements that celebrate events or express messages at odds with my faith.”  

In this latest case over religious belief and freedom and anti-discrimination law the court unanimously found against the florist stating "The State of Washington bars discrimination in public accommodations on the basis of sexual orientation. Discrimination based on same-sex marriage constitutes discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation."  This decision is to be appealed at the US Supreme Court by Barronelle Stuzman. 

The earlier decision involving the bakers, Masterpiece Cakeshop, in Colorado was believed by some observers to have avoided the crucial question of which right dominates, that of religious freedom or anti-discrimination based on sexual orientation. The Arlene flowers case provides another opportunity for the US Supreme courts to look at this challenging question, which has proved to be extremely difficult to resolve.

There have been numerous cases across the globe which have come up against the thorny problem of which right trumps another right.  Discrimination against an individual, for whatever reason, is held to be unacceptable to a large number of regimes. However, a person’s right to their religious beliefs is held to be equally precious.  There has been more than one employment law case in the UK where a person has been sanctioned for the outward display of religious artefacts, together with instances where individuals with deeply held religious objections to same-sex involvement were sacked or suspended.  In the cases of an airline stewardess Nadia Eweida and nurse Shirley Chaplin who both wore crosses in the workplace and were informed by their respective employers that they were no longer permitted to wear the outward symbols of their faith at work, together with the registrar who objected to officiating at gay civil partnerships and the marriage counsellor who was sacked for objecting to being asked to give sex advice to gay couples, their group appeal was taken to the European Court of Human Rights where the court decided that their human rights had been violated.  However, the cases briefly outlined above were not in direct conflict with another right, which significantly complicates a court decision.

The US Supreme Court justices have already been grappling with a similar petition for some time, arising from the lawyers acting in the Oregon bakery in another gay cake case, where another bakery refused to create a cake linked to same-sex issues due to religious reasons.  The Oregon bakery lawyers hope to have a similar ruling to that of the Colorado bakery.  So far the justices have not yet acted with regard to the Oregon petition.

The US Supreme Court will have to decide whether to grasp the discrimination nettle and settle the matter once and for all or make another decision tailored to the particular case. 

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