Supreme Court Upholds Designer’s Right to Decline Making Wedding Websites for Same-Sex Couples

by Joshua Brown
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religious rights

In a decision that has sparked controversy, the Supreme Court’s conservative majority ruled on Friday in favor of a Christian graphic artist who, based on personal beliefs, refuses to design wedding websites for same-sex couples. This ruling, seen as a setback for gay rights, was met with dissent from one of the court’s liberal justices who argued that it perpetuates the marginalization of gays and lesbians, while potentially setting a precedent for other forms of discrimination.

Despite the existence of a Colorado law that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, race, gender, and other characteristics, the court ruled 6-3 in favor of the designer, Lorie Smith. Smith contended that the law infringed upon her freedom of speech.

Opponents of Smith’s case cautioned that a victory for her would open the door for various businesses to engage in discriminatory practices, potentially refusing service to Black, Jewish, or Muslim customers, interracial or interfaith couples, and immigrants. However, Smith and her supporters argued that a ruling against her would compel artists across different mediums, including painters, photographers, writers, and musicians, to produce work that contradicts their personal beliefs.

In the majority opinion, Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote on behalf of the court’s six conservative justices, stating that the First Amendment envisions a diverse and free-thinking United States, where individuals are allowed to express their thoughts without government interference. Gorsuch emphasized that the ability to think freely and articulate one’s opinions is a cherished liberty that strengthens the nation.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor, in her dissent, wrote, “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.” She was joined by the court’s other two liberal justices, Elena Kagan and Ketanji Brown Jackson. Sotomayor warned that the logic behind this decision could extend beyond discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, potentially permitting a website designer to reject creating a wedding website for an interracial couple, a stationer to refuse selling a birth announcement for a disabled couple, or a large retail store to limit its portrait services to “traditional” families.

The ruling is considered a victory for religious rights and part of a series of cases where the Supreme Court has sided with religious plaintiffs in recent years. In previous instances, the court expanded LGBTQ rights, including granting same-sex couples the right to marry in 2015 and acknowledging that a significant civil rights law protects gay, lesbian, and transgender individuals from employment discrimination in a decision authored by Gorsuch five years later.

While the court has advanced gay rights, it has consistently emphasized the importance of respecting differing religious views. Justice Anthony Kennedy noted in the court’s gay marriage decision that the belief in traditional marriage between one man and one woman has long been held in good faith by reasonable and sincere people around the world.

The court returned to this notion when faced with the case of a Christian baker who objected to creating a cake for a same-sex wedding five years ago. In a limited ruling favoring the baker, Jack Phillips, the court cited hostility towards his religious beliefs during the case’s consideration. Kristen Waggoner, Phillips’ attorney from the Alliance Defending Freedom, who also presented the recent case, applauded the Supreme Court’s affirmation that the government cannot compel individuals to express ideas that go against their beliefs.

The designer, Lorie Smith, who operates a Colorado design business called 303 Creative, does not currently offer wedding website services. While she aspires to do so, her Christian faith prevents her from designing websites that celebrate same-sex marriages, putting her in conflict with state law.

Colorado, like most states, has a public accommodations law that prohibits businesses open to the public from discriminating against customers. Under this law, Colorado argued that if Smith offers wedding websites to the public, she must provide them to all customers, irrespective of sexual orientation. Violations of this law can result in penalties, including fines. Smith contended that applying the law to her case violates her First Amendment rights, while the state maintained otherwise.

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

Follow the AP’s coverage of the U.S. Supreme Court at https://bigbignews.net/us-supreme-court.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about religious rights

Q: What was the ruling of the Supreme Court regarding the designer’s refusal to make wedding websites for gay couples?

A: The Supreme Court’s conservative majority ruled in favor of the designer, stating that she can refuse to work with same-sex couples based on her religious beliefs. This decision was seen as a setback for gay rights and raised concerns about potential discrimination.

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