U.S. Supreme Court sides with web designer who won’t do gay wedding websites

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United States Supreme Court Building (IBJ file photo)

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

The court ruled 6-3 for designer Lorie Smith despite a Colorado law that bars discrimination based on sexual orientation, race, gender and other characteristics. Smith had argued that the law violates her free speech rights.

Smith’s opponents warned that a win for her would allow a range of businesses to discriminate, refusing to serve Black, Jewish or Muslim customers, interracial or interfaith couples or immigrants. But Smith and her supporters had said that a ruling against her would force artists—from painters and photographers to writers and musicians—to do work that is against their beliefs.

Smith’s lawyer, Kristen Waggoner, said the Supreme Court was right to reaffirm that the government cannot compel people to say things they do not believe.

“Disagreement isn’t discrimination, and the government can’t mislabel speech as discrimination to censor it,” she said in a statement.

Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote for the court’s six conservative justices that the First Amendment “envisions the United States as a rich and complex place where all persons are free to think and speak as they wish, not as the government demands.”

Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote a dissent that was joined by the court’s other liberals. “Today, the Court, for the first time in its history, grants a business open to the public a constitutional right to refuse to serve members of a protected class,” Sotomayor wrote.

The decision is a win for religious rights and one in a series of cases in recent years in which the justices have sided with religious plaintiffs. Last year, for example, the court ruled along ideological lines for a football coach who prayed on the field at his public high school after games.

The decision is also a retreat on gay rights for the court. For two decades, the court has expanded the rights of LGBTQ people, most notably giving same-sex couples the right to marry in 2015 and announcing five years later that a landmark civil rights law also protects gay, lesbian and transgender people from employment discrimination. That civil rights law decision was also written by Gorsuch.

Even as it has expanded gay rights, however, the court has been careful to say those with differing religious views needed to be respected. The belief that marriage can only be between one man and one woman is an idea that “long has been held—and continues to be held—in good faith by reasonable and sincere people here and throughout the world,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the court’s gay marriage decision.

The court returned to that idea five years ago when it was confronted with the case of a Christian baker who objected to designing a cake for a same-sex wedding. The court issued a limited ruling in favor of the baker, Jack Phillips, saying there had been impermissible hostility toward his religious views in the consideration of his case. Phillips’ lawyer, Kristen Waggoner, of the Alliance Defending Freedom, also brought the most recent case to the court.

Smith, who owns a Colorado design business called 303 Creative, does not currently create wedding websites. She has said that she wants to but that her Christian faith would prevent her from creating websites celebrating same-sex marriages. And that’s where she runs into conflict with state law.

Colorado, like most other states, has a law forbidding businesses open to the public from discriminating against customers. Colorado said that under its so-called public accommodations law, if Smith offers wedding websites to the public, she must provide them to all customers, regardless of sexual orientation. Businesses that violate the law can be fined, among other things. Smith argued that applying the law to her violates her First Amendment rights. The state disagreed.

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14 thoughts on “U.S. Supreme Court sides with web designer who won’t do gay wedding websites

    1. It will only lead to more divisiveness. If you sell a standard product/service to the general public, you serve the general public. People will be surprised when this encourages others to deny them service based on race, religion, etc. It’s one thing to collision a special product, quite another to design what is basically just an electronic announcement & gift registry.

      As an aside, in this case, for a simple, non-commercial website, I am surprised anyone even hires web designers anymore. You can design very professional and customized websites for basic thing like wedding announcements at a much lower cost using a service like Wix, etc. I guess technology will resolve these issues by simply replacing humans.

  1. Put another way: The Supreme Court once again affirmed the 14th Amendment’s requirement that states honor the Bill of Rights. Here, the First Amendment’s protection of the free exercise of religion (and its attendant religious liberty) protects a religious observer from being bullied by gay activists. Where there are intersecting Constitutional rights, one of them has to give way, and the Justices made a reasonable decision. All this decision does is prevent activists from wielding a state law as a weapon to harass religious observers. It is the psychopath who enjoys forcing others to do things against their will and often lacks empathy or respect for others. Asking the psychopath to move along is not that big of a burden.

    1. Regardless of the arguments one way or another, the court should never have even taken this case in the first place. The plaintiff does not even have an operating business that has had to face the issue of whether or not to accept the business of a gay customer. The business was not damaged by the law because there was no business in the first place. There were no bullying gay activists because there was no business to bully. The whole thing was fabricated to get a vehicle to send to the Supreme Court so the corrupt right-wing majority could erode gay rights. Can you really file a lawsuit claiming a law is harmful to you when you have not been harmed? With this court, apparently so. Maybe it’s time to start suing gunmakers and gun-loving legislators because we might get shot by the guns they have flooded our streets with. (Of course, this illegitimate court would never allow that).

    2. Leftists have no right to complain given the decisions made by leftwing
      members of the court.
      Your hero RBG and the others on the left are no less activists than what you.accuse the others of.

      That said, the U.S. Surpreme Court has been very consistent in most of their
      decisions. Leaning neither left nor right, but going by the intent of the law.

      Leftists are playing with fire demeaning the court and trying to undermine it.
      It’s rediculious that leftists want to change the rules every time they don’t
      get their way.

    3. Lol….Nancy Pelosi and other Dems are calling for age limits on
      U.S. Surpreme Justices.

      Looks like Pelosi, Feinstein, and RBG should have taken that advice.

    4. I disagree. It is about honoring living in a diverse society AND functional society. It is not a First Amendment issue to choose to sell a standard product or service, and I think the Court erred in equating what is simply an electronic wedding announcement with a personal message or endorsement of a particular idea or belief. Absolutely, I would agree if this was about someone making custom cakes and the issue was putting a political or social message on the cake (or website) that someone personally disagreed with. But, whether or not you believe in or support same-sex marriage, they are the law and an announcement of one is not an endorsement of the idea.

      The specific ruling itself is rather narrow, but my concern is that it will emboldened bigots who think they can, pardon the pun, have their cake and eat it, too. I see some idiots believing this ruling allows them to deny a seat at a general service restaurant or the sale of a prepackaged product to someone from a particular group they simply don’t like. It does not, and in balance, anti-discrimination laws STILL stand, but I know there will always be those trying ti undermine or ignore them.

      What I do wonder is how principled some people trumpeting this ruling will be when it is invariably used against them. The First Amendment does not only cover religious beliefs, it also covers choosing *not* to believe in a certain creed or set of values, as well as most general expression. So, I could certainly see someone say this ruling allows them to deny and advertise that they deny their services to individuals of a particular religious faith, etc.

    5. The law is very clear and enforceable on public accommodations.
      There is no middle ground

      That said, bigots come in all shades, religions, political persuasions, and
      non religious beliefs.

  2. So I assume she will turn away any business from people on their second marriages as well, or any pregnant bride, or any couple that already has kids, or any couple that will use birth control, or any couple already living together……

  3. As a business owner i have the right to do business with whom i choose. Why is this such a difficult concept to understand? Should I choose wrong I alone suffer the consequences, but it is my choice

    1. So businesses can discriminate against who they serve, but universities can’t discriminate against who they accept…

    2. It’s actually not. You made the choice to operate a business and you must play by the rules, which were put in place because business owners were declining or segregating their offerings based on skin color, religion, sexual orientation, etc. And it isn’t just you who suffers the consequences, because you’re denying people a good or service based on something they can’t change.

      Business operation is a choice. If you can’t get past your own bigotry to serve the general public, then you don’t get to operate a business. It’s that simple. You aren’t given special rights for being a business owner and I don’t know why you think you should.