Store owners cannot be jailed for refusing to make wedding invitations for same-sex couples: Arizona Supreme Court

The city of Phoenix cannot compel an art studio owned by two Christians to design wedding invitations for same-sex couples, the Arizona Supreme Court ruled Monday in a 4-3 decision.

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Joanna Duka and Breanna Koski, who run Brush & Nib Studio, potentially faced $2,500 in fines and six months in jail for violating Phoenix's 2013 ordinance that prohibited discrimination based on "sexual orientation, gender identity or expression."

"Duka and Koski’s beliefs about same-sex marriage may seem old-fashioned, or even offensive to some," wrote Justice Andrew Gould in the opinion of 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."

“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,” Gould wrote.

Wedding invitations designed by Joanna Duka and Breanna Koski, owners of Brush & Nib Studios (Photo: Arizona Supreme Court)

Judge Christopher Staring dissented, agreeing generally with the majority opinion but worrying that the decision could be used as basis to discriminate against religious persons.

"Among other things, I am concerned that, ironically, today’s holding could be relied on to discriminate against individuals based on their religion and religious beliefs, notwithstanding the fact that both Arizona and Phoenix include religion as a basis for protection in their public accommodation laws," Staring wrote.

"Today, freedom won," said attorney Jonathan Scroggs of Alliance Defending Freedom, which represented Duka and Koski. "Everyone should enjoy the freedom to peacefully live out their beliefs without fear that the government will silence them or force them to promote messages that violate their core convictions. That freedom should be protected, regardless of whether people share the government’s point of view. We’re encouraged that the Arizona Supreme Court has ruled today to protect that key freedom— guaranteed by the Constitution and so crucial to American life."

"Today’s victory is not just a win for Breanna Koski and me," Duka added. "It's a victory for everyone. Everyone should be free to peacefully live and work according to their beliefs without fear of unjust punishment. We brought our case to protect this freedom, not just for ourselves, but for all Americans."

The studio owners filed the suit to enjoin the city from citing them for violating the ordinance. They had not yet been cited. The owners also sought a declaration that the ordinance violates their free speech and religious exercise rights, but the court stuck to a more narrow decision applying only to the owners and their wedding invitations.

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"The city of Phoenix’s anti-discrimination ordinance is still a legal, valid law and remains in effect," the city of Phoenix said in a statement. "It currently affirms that everyone should be treated fairly and equally regardless of sexual orientation, race, religion, sex, gender or disability. On September 16, 2019, the Arizona Supreme Court made a very narrow ruling that one local business has the right to refuse to make custom wedding invitations for same-sex couples’ weddings that are similar to the designer’s previous products. This ruling does not apply to any other business in Phoenix."