Local officials, leaders react to Supreme Court backing designer against same-sex marriage

Jul 1, 2023, 6:11 PM | Updated: Jul 2, 2023, 3:52 pm

FILE - The U.S. Supreme Court is seen May 16, 2023, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)Cre...

FILE - The U.S. Supreme Court is seen May 16, 2023, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

(AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

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

The court ruled 6-3 for designer Lorie Smith, saying she can refuse to design websites for same-sex weddings despite a Colorado law that bars discrimination based on sexual orientation, race, gender and other characteristics. The court said forcing her to create the websites would violate her free speech rights under the Constitution’s First Amendment.

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The case challenged a Colorado 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.

In the ruling, 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.” Gorsuch said that the court has long held that “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.”

In the dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor 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 two other liberals, Justice Elena Kagan and Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson.

Sotomayor added the decision’s logic “cannot be limited to discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.” A website designer could refuse to create a wedding website for an interracial couple, a stationer could refuse to sell a birth announcement for a disabled couple, and a large retail store could limit its portrait services to ‘traditional’ families,” she wrote.

Speaking out

Leaders of Washington’s LGBTQ community say they will work to ensure the state’s laws continue to protect their rights after the ruling.

The Washington State Legislature’s LGBTQ+ Caucus released a statement condemning the court’s decision.

“At a time of increased nationwide violence and hatred directed towards the LGBTQ+ community, the United States Supreme Court has sided today with forces of division and taken a step back in the march toward a more perfect union,” the caucus’ statement said. “This decision marks the first time in our nation’s history that the Court has allowed businesses open to the public to discriminate against a protected class effectively.”

Washington State Senator Marko Liias called the ruling deeply disappointing.

“We’re on a long march toward a more perfect union but this is certainly a setback in our progress toward achieving that vision,” Liias told Heather Bosch of KIRO Newsradio. The senator is gay and co-chairs the Washington LGBTQ Caucus.

Sen. Liias also noted the ruling has come at a time when violence is increasing against his community.

FBI data show hate crimes against the LGBTQ community increased 70% from 2020 to 2021, while crimes against gay men specifically increased 41%.

“(The ruling) just sends the wrong message in this moment, Liias said. “We should be lifting up our trans-youth and ensuring that LGBTQ people have more access to housing and healthcare and opportunity not chipping away at the progress that we’ve already achieved.”

Although it’s unclear what impact the law will have in Washington now, Liias added his caucus will sit down with the attorney general and our legal teams to “examine exactly how we make sure that this new ruling is as limited as possible and that we get the full protections intended under our Washington laws.”

During Friday’s “The Gee & Ursula Show” Travis Mayfield, filling in for Ursula Reutin, described how this ruling hurt him.

“As this ruling came down (Friday) morning, my heart is just heavy,” Mayfield said. “For so many people, it’s a debate. For me, it means ‘Go stand in this other line.’ It means, ‘Go around to the back.’

Mayfield, who is gay and has two kids with his husband, acknowledged Smith has a right to her views and opinions in this country, but he also believes she should serve everyone with her business.

“If she is going to open a public business and serve the public, she needs to serve all of us whether she agrees with me or not. It’s a basic fundamental issue of fairness in this country. You can have rights to free speech. But when it comes to serving other people in this country, you have to treat them fairly and you have to treat them equally. And the Supreme Court said I am not as equal as I was yesterday.”

Mayfield also noted that while many people can move on and enjoy the holiday weekend, he can’t turn this off.

“This means that every business I go to, I now have to think, ‘Will they serve me?'” Mayfield said.

The legal grounds

Former Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna discussed the legal grounds for the court’s decision with “Seattle’s Morning News” Friday.

“So the key to understanding this case is that the lawsuit that was filed against Colorado to challenge the law,” McKenna said. “This case was very carefully constructed by the plaintiff and her attorneys to really focus on the speech element of her business.”

McKenna also addressed a case between a Richland florist who refused to create wedding bouquets for a gay customer, which the Supreme Court declined to hear. She eventually agreed to a settlement.

“In the case of a florist in the Tri-Cities who challenged Washington state’s law, you have a fundamental question of whether making floral arrangements constitutes speech or is the provision of a service. My guess is that even this Supreme Court would find that making flower arrangements is not speech,” McKenna said. “I mean, there’s a creative element to it. But not everything that has a creative element to it is speech, writing, and publishing that writing on the internet is speech.”

Activist decisions

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, the court ruled along ideological lines for a Bremerton football coach who prayed on the field at his public high school after games, and the court overturned abortion protections with Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.

“It’s probably unlike any court we’ve seen since the 1930s when you had a conservative majority that was striking down key elements of the New Deal,” McKenna said. “So it’s been a long time since this Court, which is this conservative and this activist, and you certainly see that in the affirmative action ruling.”

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McKenna said that the outrage from Democrats and those on the left is common when the court does things that people perceive as political, but he said that the national court isn’t the only one with a reputation for making activist decisions.

“I’d also point out this calling that, you know, the Supreme Court of the United States is not the only Supreme Court in our country, which is criticized for being overly ideological or overly activist; our own Washington State Supreme Court has taken a lot of heat over the last couple of years for its own decisions, rolling back long-established precedents in Washington State,” McKenna said.

Contributing: Heather Bosch, KIRO Newsradio; The Associated Press

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Local officials, leaders react to Supreme Court backing designer against same-sex marriage