Justices spar in latest clash of religion, gay rights

United States Supreme Court Building

The U.S. Supreme Court ‘s conservative majority sounded sympathetic Monday to a Christian graphic artist who objects to designing wedding websites for gay couples, a dispute that’s the latest clash of religion and gay rights to land at the highest court.

The designer and her supporters say that ruling against her would force artists—from painters and photographers to writers and musicians—to do work that is against their faith. Her opponents, meanwhile, say that if she wins, a range of businesses will be able to discriminate, refusing to serve Black customers, Jewish or Muslim people, interracial or interfaith couples or immigrants, among others.

The lively arguments at the Supreme Court ran well beyond the allotted 70 minutes.

Justice Neil Gorsuch, one of three high court appointees of former President Donald Trump, described Lorie Smith, the website designer, as “an individual who says she will sell and does sell to everyone, all manner of websites, (but) that she won’t sell a website that requires her to express a view about marriage that she finds offensive.”

The issue of where to draw the line dominated the questions early in Monday’s arguments at the high court.

Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson asked whether a photography store in a shopping mall could refuse to take pictures of Black people on Santa’s lap.

“Their policy is that only white children can be photographed with Santa in this way, because that’s how they view the scenes with Santa that they’re trying to depict,” Jackson said.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor repeatedly pressed Kristen Waggoner, the lawyer for Smith, over other categories. “How about people who don’t believe in interracial marriage? Or about people who don’t believe that disabled people should get married? Where’s the line?” Sotomayor asked.

But Justice Samuel Alito, who seemed to favor Smith, asked whether it’s “fair to equate opposition to same-sex marriage to opposition to interracial marriage?”

The case comes at a time when the court is dominated 6-3 by conservatives and following a series of cases in which the justices have sided with religious plaintiffs. It also comes as, across the street from the court, lawmakers in Congress are finalizing a landmark bill protecting same-sex marriage.

The bill, which also protects interracial marriage, steadily gained momentum following the high court’s decision earlier this year to end constitutional protections for abortion. That decision to overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade case prompted questions about whether the court—now that it is more conservative —might also overturn its 2015 decision declaring a nationwide right to same-sex marriage. Justice Clarence Thomas explicitly said that decision should also be reconsidered.

The case being argued before the high court Monday involves Smith, a graphic artist and website designer in Colorado who wants to begin offering wedding websites. Smith says her Christian faith prevents her from creating websites celebrating same-sex marriages.

“Ms. Smith believes opposite-sex marriage honors scripture and same-sex marriage contradicts it,” Waggoner told the justices.

But that could get her in trouble with state law. Colorado, like most other states, has what’s called a public accommodation law that says if Smith offers wedding websites to the public, she must provide them to all customers. Businesses that violate the law can be fined, among other things.

Five years ago, the Supreme Court heard a different challenge involving Colorado’s law and a baker, Jack Phillips, who objected to designing a wedding cake for a gay couple. That case ended with a limited decision, however, and set up a return of the issue to the high court. Waggoner, of the Alliance Defending Freedom, also represented Phillips.

Like Phillips, Smith says her objection is not to working with gay people. She says she’d work with a gay client who needed help with graphics for an animal rescue shelter, for example, or to promote an organization serving children with disabilities. But she objects to creating messages supporting same-sex marriage, just as she wouldn’t create a website for a couple who met while they both were married to other people and then divorced, Waggoner said.

Smith says Colorado’s law violates her free speech rights. Her opponents, including the Biden administration and groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union, the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, disagree.

Twenty mostly liberal states, including California and New York, are supporting Colorado while another 20 mostly Republican states, including Arizona, Indiana, Ohio and Tennessee, are supporting Smith.

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11 thoughts on “Justices spar in latest clash of religion, gay rights

  1. I’m somehow betting her faith wouldn’t prevent her from creating wedding websites for philandering, abusive, previously divorced, etc., couples, though – all of which are also contrary to the creed she purports to follow.

    1. Quite possibly. People do tend to be hypocritical. If you chip away at people’s moral foundations enough, basically everyone is a hypocrite to some degree. It’s impossible to be otherwise, because there’s no such thing as a 100% perfectly internally consistent moral viewpoint.

      But are people seeking to celebrate philandering, divorce, spousal abuse? Not likely, unless they’re devotees of such sites as Salon, Jezebel, HuffPo, etc.

      “Congratulations on your triple-digit body count!” says the hypothetical cake.

      If the sweet little baker knew what “body count” really means, she’d probably refuse.

  2. What about the advertising exec that has a cigarette company for a client? These are business people offering their expertise to the public, and sometime you get a client you don’t like but you agreed to offer your skills to the public.

    If she was really an “artist”, then she has complete control of everything in the process from creation to finished product, so the “artist” label is just wrong. She is no different that a skilled advertising executive.

    I could see how she is harmed if she was forced to marry somebody of the same sex, but I don’t see she even has standing to sue. She has not been harmed, fined, or even forced to design a wedding site.

    This sound so much like the religious justification for Slavery. Welcome back to 1850’s America. MAGA!!!

    1. Not a very good analogy for the point you’re trying to make – an advertising company would not be forced to accept a cigarette company as a client. (And, creating good ad copy is certainly an artistic endeavor, so again, not a very good example to support your view.) (Furthermore, artists often create works on commission for clients – that’s always been true throughout the history of art. Often, they don’t have complete control – and having control is not now nor has it ever been part of any standard definition for “artist” in any event.)

      Contrary to what many people say, I don’t think it’s an easy case (compelled speech is clearly a 1st Amendment violation – the government shouldn’t be able to force you to say something with which you disagree vs. anti-discrimination laws – you shouldn’t be able to discriminate against defined categories of people). I don’t know exactly where to draw the line, and I suspect many of the justices are having trouble with that too based on the questioning. In general, I come down on the side of the more speech, the better. Don’t like what this Plaintiff is saying (or, not wanting to say)? Sounds like a great business opportunity for a web designer to create a firm catered toward gay couples – I bet they would earn stacks of cash.

  3. Here’s a simple exercise. Substitute any of these in place of same-sex couples: “I refuse to do your wedding website since you are a bi-racial couple, one of you is divorced; you’re both Black/ Hispanic/ Asian, etc.” See how ridiculous this sounds?

    1. The “one of you is divorced”–absolutely. Plenty of people wouldn’t be eager to participate in a celebration of a divorce.

      As for the other stuff…well…

      As much as the activists try to equate gay rights to the civil rights movement of the 1960s, it doesn’t seem to be sticking, because of the lack of heritability of sexuality–it’s not a phenotype like melanin or hair texture–and in the era of Anne Heche and people declaring themselves kitten-sexual, let alone bisexuality or the lack of empirical obviousness to sexuality (versus race), the Lady Gaga argument of “born that way” isn’t all that convincing. I’m not asserting that it is something that most people decide easily or superficially, or that sexuality is a passing fancy like a clothing material or hairstyle…at least not for most people. But the fact that it is for some people is enough to assert that it’s not a denial of services based on a person’s intrinsic, indelible features.

      Incidentally, your current POTUS actually tried to do exactly what you’re asserting in the inverse–favoring certain races over others (grants exclusively available to black farmers or small-business owners) and was promptly shot down by judges interpreting the Civil Rights Act.

      So there’s a cultural acceptance that you cannot discriminate against race that simply doesn’t seem to be gaining traction when transposed to sexual orientation. Maybe an argument could emerge in the future, but it hasn’t yet.

  4. Here we go again; secular-humanists will not stand still until every vestige of the Judeo-Christian values that built and have sustained The United States of America to date have been stamped out and replaced with the “every person is their own god and you’d better get in line or else” mantra.

  5. Or, more to the point, if a given town has eight bakeries and seven of them are more than happy to make a wedding cake for anybody, why would secular-humanist goons seek out the one person for whom making the cake would violate their beliefs, rather than simply choose another bakery?

    And if the goons don’t like the one bakery’s position on the matter, they are free to boycott that bakery and encourage others to do so. If enough of them and their ill-advised acolytes boycott the bakery, the owner will be forced to seek another field of employment or capitulate to their demands.

    1. Wow, such big words, Bob. Secular-humanist. Ill-advised acolytes. Capitulate. You so smart, Bob.

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