US: It Didn’t End With Cakes

Imani Gandy. Imani is a senior legal analyst for Rewire.News, where she covers law and courts and co-hosts Rewire.News’ podcast Boom! Lawyered. Imani also began and continues to write the Angry Black Lady Chronicles.

Imani is a recovering attorney turned award-winning journalist and political blogger. Previously, Imani founded Angry Black Lady Chronicles, winner of the 2010 Black Weblog Award for Blog to Watch and the 2012 Black Weblog Award for Best Political Blog. She received her JD from University of Virginia School of Law in 2001, where she was a Hardy Cross Dillard scholar and an Editorial Board member of the University of Virginia Law Review.

The Arizona Supreme Court will soon issue a ruling on a case brought by two evangelical Christian artists, Joanna Duka and Breanna Koski, who want to be able to refuse to make custom wedding invitations for same-sex couples.

Unfortunately for Duka and Koski, the city of Phoenix has an ordinance prohibiting them from doing so—and from posting a “We don’t serve your kind here” sign in their store, Brush & Nib Studio. So in 2016, they filed a lawsuit asking the court to block the city from applying the law to them—even though no same-sex couples had asked them to design a wedding invitation in the first place.

The city of Phoenix is one of several cities that enacted ordinances to provide broader protections against discrimination in places of public accommodations—places like restaurants, retail stores, hotels, theaters, gyms, and public transportation—than those offered by the state of Arizona, which only prevents discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin or ancestry.

In Phoenix, it is unlawful to “refuse, withhold from, or deny to any person … accommodations, advantages, facilities, or privileges thereof … because of sexual orientation.” It is also unlawful to “display, circulate, or publicize or mail any … communication which states or implies that any … service shall be refused … because of sexual orientation… or that any person, because of… sexual orientation… would be unwelcome, objectionable, unacceptable, undesirable or not solicited.”

In other words, if you run a business in Phoenix, you can’t refuse to provide a service to gay people because they’re gay. And despite all the bluster in their complaint about God and running their business in keeping with their religious faith, that’s exactly what Duka and Koski want to do.

As frustrating as they are, Duka and Koski’s flowery claims about their religious beliefs compelling them to discriminate against same-sex couples are not unique. They are part of a nationwide crusade by evangelical Christians to weaponize the First Amendment and religious freedom to defend anti-gay bigotry.

Most of the lawsuits relate to retailers in the wedding industry refusing to serve same-sex couples: refusal to take photographs of same-sex weddings (Elane Photography v. Willock out of New Mexico); refusal to provide custom arranged flowers (Washington v. Arlene’s Flowers out of Washington state); refusal to rent spaces for same-sex weddings (Gifford v. McCarthy out of New York); and refusal to make custom wedding cakes for same-sex couples (Klein v. Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries, which is in the middle of briefing before the Supreme Court). In each of these cases, courts ruled that refusal to serve LGBTQ customers was unlawful under the anti-discrimination statute at issue. (The Supreme Court reversed Colorado’s ruling in Masterpiece Cakeshop on procedural grounds, rather than on the merits of the case.) And in the vast majority of them, the plaintiffs are represented by the conservative evangelical law firm Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), which has led the charge in the Christian crusade to deny LGBTQ people their rights and promote bigotry against them.

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