Can a business refuse service to same-sex couples?

After ruling in favor of a baker who refused to create a wedding cake for a same-sex couple, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear a case involving a florist who made a similar denial. The court sent the florist’s case back to a lower court, directing it to revisit the decision in light of the ruling involving the cake, the Masterpiece Cakeshop case.

In ruling for the baker, Jack Phillips, the court held that Colorado commissioners showed hostility toward Phillips’ religious beliefs because the state civil rights commission ruled against him while allowing other bakers to turn away a customer seeking cakes with anti-gay messages.

The court avoided a larger constitutional question regarding whether a business can decline to provide products or services due to religious objections to same-sex marriage.

In sending the florist case back to the lower court, the Supreme Court wiped away the lower court opinion that found against the florist for denying services. That case must now be reheard. The result may be ongoing conflict in the lower courts over when a business can refuse to serve a same-sex couple.

Twelve states have policies that permit the denial of services to LGBT individuals based on religion, in a patchwork variety of situations. Twenty-two states have anti-discrimination laws that, if upheld, could require businesses to serve same-sex couples, regardless of their religious beliefs.

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