The Supreme Court delivered a major blow to gay rights with its latest ruling. On Friday, the high court released its decision in 303 Creative LLC v. Elenis, ruling that Lorie Smith, the Colorado Christian graphic artist who designs wedding websites, can refuse to work with same-sex couples.”
Under Colorado law, it is illegal to discriminate “based on sexual orientation, race, gender, and other characteristics.” But Smith did not want to design wedding websites for gay couples even though the anti-discrimination law applied. She argued that this law violated her freedom of speech rights. The conservative supermajority court agreed with a 6-3 split along ideological lines.
Some legal pundits believe this case should not have even been heard, given issues of legal standing. In past cases, two parties were at odds, such as in 2018’s Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission.
But here, “No same-sex couple has ever tried to hire Lorie Smith to create a website for their wedding,” meaning this is based on a preemptive hypothetical situation that hasn’t even happened.
In taking on this case, the high court “agreed to decide only one question: ‘whether applying a public-accommodation law to compel an artist to speak or stay silent violates the free speech clause of the First Amendment.”
In this case, their decision fundamentally “carves out a First Amendment exception any time a law ‘compels’ a business to ‘express’ a message about sexual orientation with which it disagrees.”
Justice Neil M. Gorsuch wrote for the majority, “The opportunity to think for ourselves and to express those thoughts freely is among our most cherished liberties and part of what keeps our Republic strong,” continuing, “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.”
This “decision appeared to suggest that the rights of LGBTQ people…are on a more vulnerable legal footing,” writes the New York Times, especially with regard to the conflict “between laws requiring equal treatment for the LGBTQ community and those who say their religious beliefs lead them to regard same-sex marriage as ‘false.'”
In her dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor said this was “profoundly wrong,” contending that the Colorado law in question “targets conduct, not speech, for regulation, and the act of discrimination has never constituted protected expression under the First Amendment. Our Constitution contains no right to refuse service to a disfavored group.”
Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian advocacy group, brought this case forward. This group “is also behind the lawsuit that overturned Roe v. Wade; the active litigation over the abortion pill; and an ongoing case in which it argues that transgender girls shouldn’t be allowed to play on girls’ sports teams.”
Many now fear adverse consequences, with some alleging that this ruling essentially “blow[s] a hole through anti-discrimination laws and allow[s] businesses engaged in expression to refuse service to, for example, Black people or Muslims based on odious but sincerely held convictions.