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Appeals court upholds Phoenix anti-discrimination ordinance similar to Flagstaff

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WHY IT MATTERS: Issues at stake in election

 In this June 26, 2015, file photo, a supporter of same-sex marriage runs with an "equality" flag under a larger "equality" drape outside of the Supreme Court in Washington, before the court declared that same-sex couples have a right to marry anywhere in the U.S. Same-sex marriage is now the law of the land, but there are other battlegrounds related to civil rights and non-discrimination protections for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people. Two polarizing questions: What sort of access should transgender people have to public bathrooms? And are the advances for LGBT rights infringing on the religious freedom of some Americans? (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)

PHOENIX -- The state Court of Appeals has rejected a challenge by owners of a Phoenix business to an ordinance that bars them from discrimination in who they sell to based on a customer's sexual orientation.

In a unanimous ruling today, the three-judge panel cited a long line of federal court rulings from across the country that have upheld laws barring places of "public accommodation'' from refusing services based on whether the client is gay.

"In light of these cases and consistent with the United States Supreme Court's decisions, we recognize that allowing appellants based on sexual orientation would constitute grave and continuing harm,'' wrote Judge Lawrence Winthrop for the court.

But as it turns out, one of the federal appellate court rulings cited in today's ruling is the one involving the Colorado baker who refused to create a wedding cake for a gay couple. The baker said doing so would violate his "sincerely held religious beliefs,'' the same arguments made by the owners of Brush & Nib Studio in challenging the Phoenix ordinance and seeking a ruling that they need not design wedding invitations for gay couples.

That ruling against the baker was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this week.

It is unclear, however, whether that would have made any difference in what the appellate judges decided here today. That's because the nation's high court concluded only that the baker had not gotten a fair hearing before the Colorado Civil Rights Board but never reached the question of whether his religious beliefs trumped the rights of the gay couple to force him to design a cake.

But the fact of that U.S. Supreme Court ruling is virtually certain to result in a petition by the couple in this case to seek review to the Arizona Supreme Court.

If the ruling stands, however, it would uphold similar anti-discrimination ordinances in Tempe, Tucson and Flagstaff.

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