‘Devout Christians’ can legally discriminate against LGBT people, Arizona Supreme Court rules

Two male hands touching, both wearing wedding rings

The Arizona Supreme Court has ruled that a calligraphy business run by two “devout Christians” can legally discriminate against same-sex couples.

The court ruled 4-3 on Monday, September 16, that Brush & Nib Studio could legally refuse to create custom wedding invitations for same-sex couples.

The studio’s owners Joanna Duka and Breanna Koski, represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom, a designated anti-LGBT+ hate group, argued that the city of Phoenix’s anti-discrimination laws violated their constitutional rights.

Duke and Koski said they believe that “God created two distinct genders, and that only a man and a woman can be joined in marriage”, and as such could not “create art” that contradicts their Christian “beliefs and message”.

The court’s ruling cited “the rights of free speech and free exercise, so precious to this nation since its founding”, which it said “are not limited to soft murmurings behind the doors of a person’s home or church, or private conversations with like–minded friends and family”.

“These guarantees protect the right of every American to express their beliefs in public. This includes the right to create and sell words, paintings, and art that express a person’s sincere religious beliefs,” the court continued.

The guarantees of free speech and freedom of religion are not only for those who are deemed sufficiently enlightened, advanced, or progressive.

“Duka and Koski’s beliefs about same-sex marriage may seem old-fashioned, or even offensive to some. But the guarantees of free speech and freedom of religion are not only for those who are deemed sufficiently enlightened, advanced, or progressive. They are for everyone. After all, while our own ideas may be popular today, they may not be tomorrow.”

State lawmakers disappointed by Christian ruling.

The carefully-worded ruling overturns a 2018 decision by a lower court against Duka and Koski.

The Supreme Court stressed that this decision applies only to Brush & Nib and its custom wedding invitations. It does not otherwise affect Phoenix’s anti-discrimination laws, nor does it give Brush & Nib “a blanket exemption”.

Phoenix mayor Kate Gallego said that the decision “is not a win, but it is not a loss”.

“It means we will continue to have a debate over equality in this community,” she said at a press conference.

House representative Greg Stanton said that it was a “shameful day” for Arizona.

“Today’s decision will hurt people,” he said, according to KTAR News.

State house speaker Rusty Bowers supported the court’s decision, which he said “balances the importance of nondiscrimination protections with the inalienable free speech and exercise-of-religion rights of business owners”.

However, state representative Charlene Fernandez warned that the ruling could lead to further tests of Phoenix’s anti-discrimination laws.

“Thankfully the decision leaves the ordinance in place,” she said in a statement.

“However, be certain that this is just the camel’s nose under the tent.”