LGBTQ protections: Supreme Court says some businesses can refuse LGBTQ customers


The Supreme Court ruled Friday in favor of a Christian web designer in Colorado who refused to build a website celebrating same-sex marriage because of religious objections.

The 6-3 decision was authored by Justice Neil Gorsuch and included Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito, Amy Coney Barrett, Brett Kavanaugh and Clarence Thomas. Justice Sonia Sotomayor, joined by her liberal colleagues Justices Elena Kagan and Ketanji Brown Jackson, dissented.

The court’s ruling represents a devastating blow to LGBTQ protections, which has been bolstered in recent years by landmark rulings by the nation’s highest court, including a decision three years ago authored by Gorsuch in which the majority struck down decisions for LGBTQ activists. Security was expanded, and the 2015 case was legalized. Same-sex marriage nationwide.

Laurie Smith, who runs a company called 303 Creative, sought to expand her business into weddings and wrote a webpage explaining why she would not create a website for same-sex couples. But under Colorado public accommodations law, she said she cannot post the statement because the state considers it illegal.

The ruling — rooted in freedom of expression — would strike down state public accommodation laws for businesses that sell so-called “expressive” goods. It is the latest victory for religious conservatives in the High Court and will worry critics who fear the current court is considering overturning the 2015 marriage case.

Gorsuch wrote that “the First Amendment views the United States as a rich and complex place where all individuals are free to think and speak as they please, not as the government demands.” He said Colorado “wants to deny that promise.”

“All forms of speech—from ‘pictures, films, paintings, drawings, and engravings’ to ‘oral utterances and the printed word’—are eligible for First Amendment protection; Nothing less could be true when it comes to Ms. Smith’s speech on the Internet,” Gorsuch said.

In dissent, Sotomayor said the decision would undermine the government’s compelling interest in ensuring that all Americans have equal access to the public market.

He wrote, “Today, the Court, for the first time in its history, grants a business open to the public a constitutional right to refuse service to members of a protected class.”

“Specifically, the Court holds that the First Amendment exempts a website design company from a state law that prohibits the company from denying marriage websites to same-sex couples if the company offers those websites chooses to sell to the public,” she wrote.

Sotomayor called it a “sad day in American constitutional law and in the lives of LGBT people”.

“By issuing this new license to discriminate in a case brought by a company that seeks to deny same-sex couples the full and equal enjoyment of its services, the immediate, symbolic impact of the decision is to double down on gays and lesbians. To mark for grade. situation,” she wrote in disagreement.

“Apart from any harm caused by the denial of service, the decision itself inflicts stigmatizing harm,” he added.

“The Court’s opinion is, in effect, a notice that reads: ‘Same-sex couples may be denied certain services.'”

He suggested the decision would be more far-reaching. “The rationale of the decision cannot be limited to discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.”

“The decision threatens to upset the market balance and exclude other groups from many services,” he added. “For example, a website designer may refuse to even design a wedding website for an interracial couple,” he added.

But in a footnote, Gorsuch pushed back. “Our decision today is not to concern – much less endorse – the discontent with anything like ‘only straight joints’ arising out of the air.”

Smith’s attorney, Kristen Wagner, said in a statement Friday, “The US Supreme Court correctly affirmed that the government cannot compel Americans to say things they do not believe. The court reiterated that it is unconstitutional for the state to eliminate from the public square ideas it dislikes, including the belief that marriage is the union of husband and wife.

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CNN legal analyst thinks Supreme Court ruling could have a ‘domino effect’

The court’s ruling came on the last day of Pride Month, an annual celebration of the LGBTQ community and its movement for equality that is celebrated throughout June.

In his dissent, Sotomayor outlined key moments in that decades-long movement as he explained how states passed a variety of laws on the matter and why they are essential to community members. “Who can forget the brutal murder of Matthew Shepard?” she wrote, later adding: “Or the Pulse nightclub massacre, the second deadliest mass shooting in American history?”

“The inclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity in public accommodation laws is a significant change,” Sotomayor wrote. “LGBT people do not seek any special treatment. They just want to exist in public. To reside in public places on the same terms and conditions as everyone else.”

Gorsuch’s opinion on the massive damage to the LGBTQ community probably came as a surprise to members of the LGBTQ community, as it cost them a significant victory in 2020.

In that case, Bostock v. Clayton County, a conservative judge wrote for the majority that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits “discrimination because of sex,” also covers claims based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Is.

The decision provided protections to millions of workers across the country and was a defeat for the Trump administration, which argued that the gender discrimination bar in Title VII did not extend to gender identity and sexual orientation claims.

LGBTQ advocates immediately condemned the decision, reiterating Sotomayor’s argument that it gives some businesses a federal right to discriminate against members of the community.

Kelly Robinson, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement, “This Supreme Court ruling is a dangerous step that gives some businesses the power to discriminate against people based solely on who we are.”

“People deserve commercial spaces that are safe and welcoming. This decision confirms how radical and out of touch this court is, especially when 80 percent of Americans support strong and LGBTQ+ inclusive nondiscrimination laws,” she said.

The American Civil Liberties Union similarly criticized the decision, saying in a tweet that it means “some businesses have a right to discriminate when selling customized, expressive services. This is the first time the Court has upheld a non-discrimination law.” Permits a business to be open to the public for returning customers in defiance.

And Democratic Representative Richie Torres, an openly gay member of the House, said on Twitter that the court’s majority “invokes religious freedom to license discrimination against LGBTQ people.”

“The LGBTQ community may be the first victim of the Supreme Court’s decision but it will not be the last. Torres wrote in an article, ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.’ Tweet.

Wagner, Smith’s attorney, came under intense attack from liberals on the bench during oral arguments in the case, who launched a series of hypotheticals to explore the possible wider consequences of the case if Smith prevailed. He suggested that other businesses may discriminate on the basis of race or physical disability.

Five years ago, the court considered a similar case involving a Colorado baker who refused to make a cake for a same-sex wedding, citing religious objections.

However, the 7-2 decision in favor of Baker concerned the specific circumstances of that case and did not apply broadly to similar disputes across the country. Under the law, a business cannot refuse service to individuals because of their sexual orientation.

Smith – who has not yet expanded her business to matrimony websites – said she is open to working with all people, regardless of their sexual orientation, but she refuses to create websites that are same-sex. linga celebrates marriage.

“No one should be put in that position, and yesterday’s court decision protects the speech of not only me but LGBT website designers and every other artist,” Smith said on CNN’s “Smerconish” on Saturday. “No one should be punished by the government for speaking out in line with their beliefs.”

“I make speeches for a living. When speech is involved, speech must be protected,” she said.

“The state of Colorado is forcing me to create custom, unique artwork that communicates and celebrates a different view of marriage, a view of marriage that goes against my deepest beliefs,” Smith told CNN in an interview. Is.”

When the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case in February 2022, the justices ignored whether the law violated Smith’s free exercise of religion. Instead, the court said it would approach the dispute through the prism of freedom of expression and decide whether enforcing the public accommodations law “to compel an artist to speak or remain silent” violates the free speech clause of the Constitution’s First Amendment. is a violation of

In court, Wagner said the law acts to compel speech in violation of the First Amendment.

He said that his client believes that “heterosexual marriage honors scripture and gay marriage contradicts it.” He said the state could interpret its law to allow speakers serving all people to reject specific projects based on their message. He argued that such a move would stop status-based discrimination without coercion or suppressing speech. Wagner said, “Art is different.”

Twenty states had considered in favor of Smith in friend-of-the-court briefs. He said he has public accommodation laws on the books, but his laws exempt businessmen who make a living by making custom art.

Smith has written a webpage explaining that his decision is based on his belief that marriage should be between a man and a woman. But he has not yet published the statement for fear of violating the law’s “publication clause” that bars a company from publishing any communication that indicates it may be denied public housing service on the basis of sexual orientation. Will be given, Wagner claimed in court papers.

Smith lost her case in the lower courts. The 10th US Circuit Court of Appeals recognized that while diversity of faiths and religious practices “enrich our society”, the state has a compelling interest in “protecting its citizens from the harm of discrimination”.

Colorado Solicitor General Eric Olson argued that the law does not regulate or constrain speech. Instead, he said, it regulates commercial conduct to ensure that all customers have the ability to participate in everyday commercial exchanges regardless of their religion, race, disability or other characteristics. He said the Colorado law targets the “business conduct of discriminatory sales” and that its effect on expression is “at most incidental.”

“Granting such a license to discriminate would empower all businesses that provide expressive services, from architects to photographers to consultants, to discriminate against customers because of their disability, sexual orientation, religion or race,” he added. refuse to render service.” ,

He added that the purpose of the law is not to suppress any message Smith may have wanted to convey. Instead, 303 Creative is free to decide what design services to offer and whether to communicate its vision of marriage through biblical quotes on its wedding websites. But seriously, by law the company has to sell whatever product or service it provides to everyone.

This story has been updated with additional information.

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