In a landmark ruling, the US Supreme Court has ruled in favour of a Christian wedding website designer from Colorado, giving her the right to decline service to LGBTQ+ couples.
The decision, reached by a majority vote of six to three, states that Lorie Smith’s business falls under the expressive and artistic work category, thereby granting her the freedom to refuse service based on her religious beliefs.
The ruling has exempted Smith from punishment under The Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act (CADA), which prohibits businesses open to the public from engaging in discriminatory practices based on various protected characteristics, including sexual orientation. The Act also restricts companies from publishing any communication that implies unwelcome patronage due to a protected characteristic.
Smith argued that her business involves custom-made and expressive services. Therefore, she should be exempted from complying with CADA and providing services for weddings that conflict with her Christian faith. Her desire extended beyond refusing to create wedding websites for same-sex couples; she also sought to convey her religious objections to same-sex weddings by posting a message on her website.
Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor expressed disappointment with the ruling, stating that it marked a sad day in American constitutional law and for the lives of LGBTQ+ individuals.
Sotomayor argues that the decision grants a particular type of business, open to the public, the constitutional right to discriminate against members of protected classes, effectively relegating LGBTQ+ people to second-class status.
However, subsequent investigations into the case revealed alleged false information presented by Smith and her legal representatives, the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a right-wing Christian advocacy group. The case referenced an inquiry from a gay couple, Stewart and Mike, who were cited as potential clients of Smith’s services. Yet, Stewart confirmed that he did not request Smith’s website design services and was married to a woman at the time of the court inquiry. This revelation raises questions about the validity of the evidence presented.
This Supreme Court ruling is not the first of its kind, as there have been multiple cases where business owners have sought legal battles to assert their right to refuse services to same-sex clients based on religious grounds. Jack Phillips, the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, won a similar case in 2021 on the basis of religious freedom after declining to serve a gay couple. Barronelle Stutzman, the Christian owner of Arlene’s Flowers, settled her case after refusing to provide flowers for a same-sex wedding. Elaine and Jonathan Huguenin also had their appeal denied by the Supreme Court after they refused to provide photography services for a lesbian couple’s commitment ceremony.
The ruling on Lorie Smith’s case has ignited debates surrounding the balance between religious freedom and anti-discrimination protections. Critics argue that granting such exemptions to businesses could perpetuate a culture of discrimination against LGBTQ+ individuals, while proponents contend that religious liberty should be upheld, even in the context of commercial enterprises.