Arizona Court of Appeals Upholds Phoenix LGBTQ Ordinance in Case Similar to ‘Masterpiece Cakeshop’

By Adam Polaski • June 7, 2018 • 3:02 pm

Today, June 7 the Arizona Court of Appeals ruled in Brush and Nib Studio v. City of Phoenix, a case that challenged a nondiscrimination ordinance in Phoenix, Arizona prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing, and places of public accommodation. The 3-judge panel from the Court of Appeals unanimously affirmed a lower court ruling rejecting an attempt from a business in Phoenix to take down the LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinance. Read the ruling here. 

Phoenix Mayor Thelma Williams said today:

“Today’s decision is an important victory and a reminder that Phoenix believes in equality for everyone. Five years ago Phoenix became the first Arizona city to enact a law to ensure equal treatment for our LGBT community, and I’m proud that the Court of Appeals upheld that ordinance. We will continue to be a city that welcomes everyone, and value each of our citizens regardless of who they love.”

About the Brush and Nib Case

The business, Brush and Nib Studio, is owned by two women who are Christian and claim that the ordinance interferes with their religious freedom. The business often offers calligraphy services, including for wedding invitations and stationary but have stopped offering the service since the Phoenix ordinance took effect. Brush and Nib would like the ability to deny service to same-sex couples seeking calligraphy services for their weddings.

Notably, the business was seeking an exemption from the ordinance, which has been in place for several years now, despite never having been approached by an LGBTQ person seeking their services, an obvious attempt to undercut an ordinance that protects people from unequal treatment.

The case was filed by the Alliance Defending Freedom, an extremist organization that has worked for years to undermine and chip away at protections for LGBTQ Americans. ADF says it will appeal to the Arizona Supreme Court.  Opposing the business’ arguments in the case is the City of Phoenix, defending its own LGBTQ-inclusive ordinance.

The Masterpiece Cakeshop Connection

The Brush and Nib ruling comes just a few days after the United States Supreme Court reaffirmed our nation’s longstanding concept of businesses being open to the public remaining Open to All. While the Court found that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission erred in its handling of the Masterpiece Cakeshop case, the Justices ultimately rejected arguments from the bakery and ADF seeking a constitutional license to discriminate against LGBTQ people based on the business’ freedom of religion and speech rights.

The Arizona Court of Appeals today listed a long line of cases in which courts have held that a business’ freedom of religion does not grant them an exemption from laws prohibiting anti-LGBTQ discrimination. Included in that list of cited rulings was this week’s Masterpiece Cakeshop case.
“In light of these cases and consistent with the United States Supreme Court’s decisions, we recognize that a law allowing Appellants to re fuse service to customers based on sexual orientation would constitute a ‘grave and continuing harm,'” the panel wrote before citing Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion in Masterpiece: 
Our society has come to the recognition that gay persons and gay couples cannot be treated as social outcasts or as inferior in dignity and worth. For that reason the laws and the Constitution can, and in some instances must, protect them in the exercise of their civil rights. The exercise of their freedom on terms equal to others must be given great weight and respect by the courts.

Congratulations to Phoenix and our partners at One Community Arizona, who have fought against this case and others that have attempted to warp the concept of religious freedom into a weapon for discrimination. Religious freedom is vital – and already protected by the U.S. Constitution. But it doesn’t give anyone a right to discriminate. Businesses that choose to open their doors to the public must be Open to everyone, including LGBTQ people. Business owners may choose what they sell – but not to whom they sell.

Judges have almost never found it persuasive when businesses have sought to exempt themselves from local or state non-discrimination laws protecting LGBTQ people. Click here to see a list of six other cases in recent history where courts have ruled against religious refusal policies or efforts. 



[fbcomments url=""]