The top court in the US state of Arizona has ruled that two designers are within their rights to refuse to create same-sex wedding invitations.
According to a 2013 nondiscrimination ordinance passed by the Phoenix City Council, all residents, no matter their sexual orientation or gender identity, must have equal access to goods and services.
While Joanna Duka and Breanna Koski, who own Brush & Nib Studio, never actually had any requests for same-sex wedding invitations they decided to challenge the law in the courts because they argue it violates their religious freedom and right to free expression.
On Monday, the Arizona Supreme Court narrowly ruled 4-3 in favour of the women. “Duka and Koski’s beliefs about same-sex marriage may seem old-fashioned, or even offensive to some,” said the court, “but the guarantees of free speech and freedom of religion are not only for those who are deemed sufficiently enlightened, advanced, or progressive. They are for everyone.”
LGBTQ and human rights groups pointed out that the ruling only applies to this case and not all other businesses or service providers. It also does not order the repeal of the city’s nondiscrimination provision.
“While today’s limited decision from the Arizona Supreme Court is disappointing, it does not grant businesses a license to discriminate,” commented ACLU of Arizona Policy Director Darrell Hill. “Discrimination has no place in our state, and we call on all local businesses to make it clear that they are open to all.”
Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego responded to the ruling by saying: “We all deserve to live in a city that accepts our individuality and our freedom of expression. A core tenant of our nation is freedom of religion. But freedom of religion does not mean freedom to discriminate.”
She insisted that while the ruling was a complicated one, “our ordinance prohibiting discrimination is going nowhere.”
The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) was more alarmed by the decision and warned that “it puts the state’s people, reputation, and economy at risk.”
“Not only does this decision affect countless LGBTQ Arizonans, it sends a message about inclusivity to businesses and institutions seeking to invest in states that welcome all people,” said HRC Deputy Campaign Director Justin Unga. “Today’s decision could also open the door for discrimination against other communities protected by the ordinance including religious minorities and women.”