Breaking News
Investing Pro 0
⏰ React to the Market Faster with Custom, Real-Time News Get Started

U.S. Supreme Court leans toward web designer with anti-gay marriage stance

World Dec 05, 2022 10:51PM ET
Saved. See Saved Items.
This article has already been saved in your Saved Items
 
2/2 © Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Web designer Lorie Smith, plaintiff in a Supreme Court case who objects to same-sex marriage, poses for a portrait at her office in Littleton, Colorado, U.S., November 28, 2022. REUTERS/Kevin Mohatt 2/2

By Andrew Chung and Nate Raymond

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court's conservative majority on Monday appeared ready to rule that a Christian web designer has a right to refuse to provide services for same-sex marriages in a case the liberal justices said could empower certain businesses to discriminate based on constitutional free speech protections.

The justices heard feisty arguments in Denver-area business owner Lorie Smith's appeal seeking an exemption from a Colorado law that bars discrimination based on sexual orientation and other factors. Lower courts ruled in Colorado's favor.

The conservative justices indicated support for Smith's view that businesses offering creative services like web design are protected by the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment guarantee against government abridgment of free speech from being forced to express messages through their work that they oppose. The court has a 6-3 conservative majority.

Smith, an evangelical Christian whose web design business is called 303 Creative, has said she believes marriage should be limited to opposite-sex couples. She preemptively sued Colorado's civil rights commission and other state officials in 2016 because she feared she would be punished for refusing to serve gay weddings under Colorado's public accommodations law.

Colorado's Anti-Discrimination Act bars businesses open to the public from denying goods or services to people because of race, gender, sexual orientation, religion and certain other characteristics.

The liberal justices offered various scenarios aimed at showing how a ruling embracing Smith's arguments could enable businesses claiming artistic rights to freely discriminate, not only against LGBT people but on the basis of race, sex, disabilities and other factors.

Conservative Justice Clarence Thomas questioned how public accommodations laws can regulate speech, noting that Smith's business is "not a hotel, this is not a restaurant, this is not a riverboat or a train."

Public accommodations laws exist in many states, banning discrimination in areas such as housing, hotels, retail businesses, restaurants and educational institutions.

The case gives the Supreme Court's conservatives another chance to exert their power following major recent rulings curbing abortion rights and expanding gun and religious rights.

'BLACK SANTA'

Liberal Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson suggested that a ruling backing Smith could allow a professional photographer to exclude Black children from a nostalgic Christmas photo with Santa Claus styled after the 1940s - a time of racial segregation in parts of America - because "they're trying to capture the feelings of a certain era."

Kristen Waggoner, the lawyer representing Smith, doubted such a scenario would merit a free speech exemption, but said, "There are difficult lines to draw and that may be an edge case."

Conservative Justice Samuel Alito asked whether a "Black Santa" could be required under Colorado's law to have his picture taken with a child wearing the outfit of the Ku Klux Klan white supremacist group. Colorado Solicitor General Eric Olson rejected that example, saying such outfits are "not protected characteristics under public accommodation laws."

After liberal Justice Elena Kagan pointed out that the analysis would be the same whether regardless of the child's race, Alito quipped: "You do see a lot of Black children in Ku Klux Klan outfits, right?"

Businesses that would warrant a free speech exemption from anti-discrimination laws include photographers, painting services, calligraphy and video services, Waggoner said. She told the court in a written brief that bartenders, caterers and tailors generally would not because they do not create speech, "though that is of course not always the case."

Olson said Smith is seeking a "license to discriminate" and that her arguments would allow exemptions not just for religious beliefs but "all sorts of racist, sexist and bigoted views." Olson said the Colorado law targets discriminatory sales by businesses like Smith's.

"The company can choose to sell websites that only feature biblical quotes describing marriage as only between a man and a woman, just like a Christmas store can choose to sell only Christmas-related items. The company just cannot refuse to serve gay couples, as it seeks to do here, just as a Christmas store cannot announce, 'No Jews allowed,'" Olson said.

Waggoner said Colorado's law forces Smith "to create speech not simply sell it."

Liberal Justice Sonia Sotomayor suggested that any businesses engaging in artistic expression also could decline service if they objected to marriages between interracial or disabled people.

"Where's the line?" Sotomayor asked Waggoner.

Alito asked about an instance in which someone offered customizable speeches or wedding vows.

"Can they be forced to write vows or speeches that espouse things they loathe?" Alito asked.

The court has become increasingly supportive of religious rights and related free speech claims in recent years even as it has backed LGBT rights in other cases such as its landmark 2015 decision legalizing gay marriage nationwide.

President Joe Biden's administration backed Colorado in the case. A ruling is expected by the end of June.

The Supreme Court in 2018 ruled in favor of Jack Phillips, a Christian Denver-area baker who refused on religious grounds to make a wedding cake for a gay couple. But in that case it stopped short of creating a free speech exemption to anti-discrimination laws. Like Phillips, Smith is represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative religious rights group.

U.S. Supreme Court leans toward web designer with anti-gay marriage stance
 

Related Articles

Add a Comment

Comment Guidelines

We encourage you to use comments to engage with other users, share your perspective and ask questions of authors and each other. However, in order to maintain the high level of discourse we’ve all come to value and expect, please keep the following criteria in mind:  

  •            Enrich the conversation, don’t trash it.

  •           Stay focused and on track. Only post material that’s relevant to the topic being discussed. 

  •           Be respectful. Even negative opinions can be framed positively and diplomatically. Avoid profanity, slander or personal attacks directed at an author or another user. Racism, sexism and other forms of discrimination will not be tolerated.

  • Use standard writing style. Include punctuation and upper and lower cases. Comments that are written in all caps and contain excessive use of symbols will be removed.
  • NOTE: Spam and/or promotional messages and comments containing links will be removed. Phone numbers, email addresses, links to personal or business websites, Skype/Telegram/WhatsApp etc. addresses (including links to groups) will also be removed; self-promotional material or business-related solicitations or PR (ie, contact me for signals/advice etc.), and/or any other comment that contains personal contact specifcs or advertising will be removed as well. In addition, any of the above-mentioned violations may result in suspension of your account.
  • Doxxing. We do not allow any sharing of private or personal contact or other information about any individual or organization. This will result in immediate suspension of the commentor and his or her account.
  • Don’t monopolize the conversation. We appreciate passion and conviction, but we also strongly believe in giving everyone a chance to air their point of view. Therefore, in addition to civil interaction, we expect commenters to offer their opinions succinctly and thoughtfully, but not so repeatedly that others are annoyed or offended. If we receive complaints about individuals who take over a thread or forum, we reserve the right to ban them from the site, without recourse.
  • Only English comments will be allowed.
  • Any comment you publish, together with your investing.com profile, will be public on investing.com and may be indexed and available through third party search engines, such as Google.

Perpetrators of spam or abuse will be deleted from the site and prohibited from future registration at Investing.com’s discretion.

Write your thoughts here
 
Are you sure you want to delete this chart?
 
Post
Post also to:
 
Replace the attached chart with a new chart ?
1000
Your ability to comment is currently suspended due to negative user reports. Your status will be reviewed by our moderators.
Please wait a minute before you try to comment again.
Thanks for your comment. Please note that all comments are pending until approved by our moderators. It may therefore take some time before it appears on our website.
 
Are you sure you want to delete this chart?
 
Post
 
Replace the attached chart with a new chart ?
1000
Your ability to comment is currently suspended due to negative user reports. Your status will be reviewed by our moderators.
Please wait a minute before you try to comment again.
Add Chart to Comment
Confirm Block

Are you sure you want to block %USER_NAME%?

By doing so, you and %USER_NAME% will not be able to see any of each other's Investing.com's posts.

%USER_NAME% was successfully added to your Block List

Since you’ve just unblocked this person, you must wait 48 hours before renewing the block.

Report this comment

I feel that this comment is:

Comment flagged

Thank You!

Your report has been sent to our moderators for review
Continue with Google
or
Sign up with Email