Phoenix Business Can Refuse Service to Same-Sex Couples, Court Rules

On Monday, the Arizona Supreme Court ruled that a Phoenix business may refuse service to same sex couples, overhauling the city’s anti-discriminatory ordinance.

In 2016, Brush & Nib, a company that makes invitations and other wedding components argued in a lawsuit that the anti-discriminatory ordinance disregarded their religious beliefs, due to the fact that they were having to make custom products for same-sex weddings. The owners believe that marriage should only be between a man and a woman.

The court ruled in Brush & Nib’s favor by a vote of 4-3 claiming that the right to free speech and religious freedoms give the company “the right to create and sell words, paintings, and art that express a person’s sincere religious beliefs.”

According to Justice Andrew Gould, the city’s anti-discrimination ordinance disregards the state’s constitution.

“To conclude, we hold that the Ordinance, as applied to Plaintiffs’ custom wedding invitations, and the creation of those invitations, unconstitutionally compels speech in violation of the Arizona Constitution’s free speech clause,” he wrote.

Previously, two courts upheld the ordinance and rejected Brush & Nib’s argument. In the past, courts agreed that the ordinance may have an effect on free speech, but the main goal was to prevent discrimination.

The appeals court decided that the ordinance regulates conduct and not speech. The penalty for violating the ordinance would have been up to six months in jail as well as a $2,500 fine.

“To conclude, we hold that the Ordinance, as applied to Plaintiffs’ custom wedding invitations, and the creation of those invitations, unconstitutionally compels speech in violation of the Arizona Constitution’s free speech clause,” the conclusion of the 110-page ruling reads. “Finally, because Plaintiffs’ intended refusal to make custom wedding invitations celebrating a same-sex wedding is legal activity under Arizona’s free speech clause…Plaintiffs are entitled to post a statement, consistent with our holding today, indicating this choice.”

“Countless items, there are literally countless items they would create for people,” Jonathan Scruggs, senior counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, said in the past. “They just can’t say, ‘We celebrate a vision of marriage that we disagree with.'”

The city believes that no business should be allowed to discriminate against a group of people, but their faith should be allowed to be infused throughout their business.

“Nothing in the law tells businesses what to write, what to say, what to paint,” Eric M. Fraser, outside counsel for the City of Phoenix, said. “All it says is if you hold yourself out as open to the public, you cannot refuse service because of who someone is.”

Click here to read the court’s full ruling on Brush & Nib Studio v. City of Phoenix.