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Despite SCOTUS Decision, LGBT Rights Still Protected in Wash.

Washington state anti-discrimination laws remain intact despite the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to side with a Colorado bakery owner this week for refusing to serve a same-sex couple. (Davis Staedtler/Flickr)
Washington state anti-discrimination laws remain intact despite the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to side with a Colorado bakery owner this week for refusing to serve a same-sex couple. (Davis Staedtler/Flickr)
June 6, 2018

SEATTLE - After siding with a Colorado bakery that refused to make a cake for a same-sex couple this week, the U.S. Supreme Court will look at a petition for a similar case from Washington state on Thursday.

Although the court ruled 7-2 in favor of Masterpiece Cakeshop, the decision was narrowly focused and did not answer the question of whether people can claim religious freedom when refusing to serve LGBT people. Last year, the Washington state Supreme Court ruled against the owner of Arlene's Flowers in Richland, who turned away a same-sex couple on religious grounds. Emily Chiang, legal director for the ACLU of Washington, represented the couple in that case.

"The state Supreme Court decision stands," she said. "Nothing in the Masterpiece Cakeshop decision takes away the right of LGBT people in the state of Washington to go and receive services for payment at a place of public accommodation."

Chiang said the U.S. Supreme Court will decide whether to grant the appeal from the Richland florist, deny it or send it back to the state Supreme Court. The high court's Masterpiece Cakeshop decision focused on the conduct of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, which it found made disparaging comments about religion considered improper for a state agency.

Chiang described the Washington state case as much more clear cut than the Colorado case. While some of the justices may have wanted to decide on the issue of religious freedom, she said Justice Anthony Kennedy, who wrote the majority decision, emphasized the importance of anti-discrimination laws.

"Part of what Kennedy wanted to say," Chiang said, "was, 'Yeah, of course you get to have a public accommodations law. That's the basis of access to free commerce that our society has been built on, and that you can't stigmatize a group of people by turning them away.' "

State leaders, including Gov. Jay Inslee and Attorney General Bob Ferguson, say they'll continue to defend anti-discrimination laws in Washington. Chiang said it's unclear when the U.S. Supreme Court will announce its decision on whether to hear the Arlene's Flowers case.

The Masterpiece Cakeshop decision is online at supremecourt.gov.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WA