US Supreme Court rules in landmark LGBTQ case
The US Supreme Court has ruled that a conservative web designer is legally entitled to refuse to create websites for same-sex weddings. The court’s liberal justices bitterly condemned what they saw as an attack on a “protected class.”
Web designer Lorie Smith is a devout Christian who runs a business creating bespoke websites for weddings. Her lawyers claim that she is “willing to work with all people, regardless of classifications such as race, creed, sexual orientation, and gender,” but when Smith placed a message on her website in 2016 explaining that she would not create content celebrating homosexual marriage, she found herself in violation of Colorado’s 2015 Anti-Discrimination Act and sued the state.
The case made its way up to the Supreme Court, which sided with Smith in a 6-3 decision along ideological lines on Friday.
Writing the majority opinion, conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch stated that by insisting that Smith create pro-LGBTQ websites, the Colorado authorities were trying to “compel speech she does not wish to provide,” which the US Constitution’s First Amendment expressly forbids.
“The opinion of the Court is, quite literally, a notice that reads: ‘Some services may be denied to same-sex couples,’” Justice Sonya Sotomayor wrote in her dissent, claiming that speech is not protected when its use amounts to an “act of discrimination.”
Gorsuch gave a scathing response to Sotomayor in his opinion. “It is difficult to read the dissent and conclude that we are looking at the same case,” he wrote. “The dissent abandons what this court’s cases have recognized time and time again: A commitment to speech for only some persons and some messages is no commitment at all.”
In a similar case in 2018, the Supreme Court sided with Christian baker Jack Phillips – also from Colorado – who refused to bake a cake celebrating a gay wedding. While the court found that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission acted with “hostility” toward Phillips’ religious beliefs, it did not issue a ruling on whether cake decoration constitutes “speech,” as Phillips argued, or on the specific circumstances under which people may seek exemption from anti-discrimination laws.
By definitively ruling that web design constitutes “speech,” Friday’s decision could pave the way for similar rulings in the 30 US states that have laws requiring businesses to serve everyone, regardless of race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation.