The Arizona Supreme Court will hear a case involving creative expression in January 2019.
The Arizona Supreme Court will hear a case involving creative expression in January 2019.
Phoenix Law/Flickr

AZ Version of Anti-Gay Wedding Cake Case Headed to State Supreme Court

The Arizona Supreme Court will hear a case in January 2019 from a small business refusing to produce wedding invitations for LGBTQ couples.

The case pits the business owners against the city of Phoenix. Key elements include artistic freedom, religious rights, and anti-discrimination laws.

The case began in May 2016, after Phoenix-based Brush & Nib Studio and its owners sued Phoenix, claiming that city anti-discrimination laws violate their artistic and religious freedom. The lawsuit was filed in Maricopa County Superior Court.

Artist Breanna Koski and calligrapher Joanna Duka founded Brush & Nib Studio in 2015. The company specializes in hand-painting and hand-lettering for weddings, special events, and home decor. They also sell ready-made products such as signs and thank-you cards.

The creatives say that Phoenix City Code 18-4(B)(1)-(3) prevents them from exercising artistic and religious freedom, by requiring that they create wedding invitations for same-sex couples.

Adopted in 2013, the ordinance prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or disability. It applies to businesses offering services to the general public.

Brush & Nib Studio is represented by Scottsdale-based Alliance Defending Freedom, a legal advocacy and training group founded in 1994 to promote what they call religious freedom, marriage and family, and the sanctity of life.

The Alliance Defending Freedom has been designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which condemns the alliance for its "anti-LGBT ideology."

The alliance’s clients include Jack Phillips, a Colorado baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple in 2012. That case, Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, went all the way to the United States Supreme Court. In June 2018, the court ruled in Phillips’ favor in a 7-2 decision.

So far, Brush & Nib Studio hasn’t fared well in the Arizona courts. In October 2017, Maricopa Country Superior Judge Karen A. Mullins ruled that the city code in question does not violate the studio's right to free speech, or the free exercise of religion.

Under the ruling, the studio can't legally refuse to sell their custom-made products to same-sex couples, or post a statement on their website saying that same-sex couples aren't welcome as customers. That decision was affirmed by the Arizona Court of Appeals in June of 2018.

Following the ruling, Brush & Nib Studio asked the Arizona Supreme Court to hear the case. The court agreed on November 20, and has scheduled oral arguments for Tuesday, January 22, 2019. Each side will have 20 minutes to make its case.

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