The Supreme Court rules for a designer who doesn’t want to create wedding websites for gay couples

The designer had argued that her freedom of expression rights were being violated.

(Andrew Harnik | AP File Photo) Lorie Smith, a Christian graphic artist and website designer in Colorado, right, speaks Monday in the Supreme Court in Washington, accompanied by her attorney Kristen Waggoner of the Alliance Defending Freedom, second from left. December 5, 2022 after her case went to the Supreme Court.

washington • In a defeat for gay rights, the conservative majority of the Supreme Court ruled on Friday that a Christian graphic designer who wants to design wedding websites can refuse to work with same-sex couples.

The court ruled 6-3 in favor of designer Lorie Smith, despite Colorado having a law prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation, race, gender and other characteristics. Smith had argued that the law violated her right to free speech.

Smith’s opponents warned that a win for her would allow a number of companies to discriminate and refuse to serve black, Jewish or Muslim customers, multiracial or interfaith couples, or immigrants. But Smith and her supporters had said that a verdict against her would force artists – from painters and photographers to writers and musicians – to do work that goes against their faith.

“The First Amendment envisions the United States as a rich and complex place where all people are free to think and speak as they please, not as the government requires,” wrote Justice Neil Gorsuch for the six Conservative Justices of the House court.

Judge Sonia Sotomayor drafted a dissent that was echoed by the court’s other liberals. “Today, for the first time in its history, the court grants a public-facing corporation the constitutional right to refuse to serve members of a protected class,” Sotomayor wrote.

The ruling is a victory for religious rights and one in a string of cases in recent years in which judges have sided with religious plaintiffs. Last year, for example, the court ruled on ideological principles for a soccer coach who prayed on the field at his public high school after games.

The decision also marks a retreat into gay rights for the court. For two decades, the court has been expanding the rights of LGBTQ people, notably granting the right to marry to same-sex couples in 2015 and announcing five years later that a landmark civil rights law also protects gay, lesbian and transgender people from discrimination in the workplace. This decision on the Civil Rights Act was also authored by Gorsuch.

Even as the court expanded gay rights, it was careful to say that people with different religious views must be respected. The belief that marriage can only be entered into between a man and a woman is an idea that “has long been held – and continues to be held – in good faith by people of reason and integrity here and around the world,” Richter wrote Anthony Kennedy in press release Court ruling on gay marriage.

The court revisited this idea five years ago when faced with the case of a Christian baker who objected to designing a cake for a same-sex wedding. The court issued a limited decision in favor of baker Jack Phillips, stating that there had been undue hostility towards his religious views in the consideration of his case. Phillips’ attorney Kristen Waggoner of the Alliance Defending Freedom also brought the latest case to court.

Smith, who owns a design company in Colorado called 303 Creative, doesn’t currently create wedding websites. She has said that she would like to, but that her Christian faith prevents her from creating websites celebrating same-sex marriages. And this is where it comes into conflict with state law.

Like most states, Colorado has a law that prohibits open-facing businesses from discriminating against customers. Colorado said that under its so-called Public Accommodations Act, if Smith offers wedding websites to the public, Smith must make them available to all customers, regardless of sexual orientation. Companies that break the law can be fined, among other things. Smith argued that applying the law to them violated their First Amendment rights. The state disagreed.

The case is 303 Creative LLC v. Elenis, 21-476.

Justin Scaccy

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