FILE - Lorie Smith, a Christian graphic artist and website designer in Colorado, right, accompanied by her lawyer, Kristen Waggoner of the Alliance Defending Freedom, second from left, speaks outside the Supreme Court in Washington, Monday, Dec. 5, 2022, after her case was heard before the Supreme Court. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)

WASHINGTON | In a defeat for gay rights, the Supreme Court’s conservative majority ruled on Friday that a Christian graphic artist who wants to design wedding websites can refuse to work with same-sex couples. One of the court’s liberal justices wrote in a dissent that the decision’s effect is to “mark gays and lesbians for second-class status” and that the decision opens the door to other discrimination.

The court ruled 6-3 for designer Lorie Smith, saying that 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.

The decision suggests that artists, photographers, videographers and writers are among those who can refuse to offer what the court called expressive services if doing so would run contrary to their beliefs. But that’s different from other businesses not engaged in speech and therefore not covered by the First Amendment, such as restaurants and hotels.


CONGRESSPERSON DIANA DEGETTE, D-DENVER: This is disgusting. The GOP-backed extremists on the U.S. Supreme Court just legalized discrimination against LGBTQ+ individuals and took a sledgehammer to the very notion of equality in this country. This is not who we are as a country. We are so much better than this.

CONGRESSPERSON DOUG LAMBORN, R-COLORADO SPRINGS: Today’s Supreme Court ruling in favor of Colorado’s 303 Creative and Lorie Smith is a victory for free speech and religious liberties everywhere. Americans of all faiths deserve First Amendment protections as they seek to uphold their fundamental beliefs.

SEN. MICHAEL BENNET, D-COLORADO: Today’s Supreme Court decision is a substantial setback for LGTBQ+ rights and equality in Colorado and across the country. No American should be treated differently because of who they are or whom they love. It’s time for the Senate to pass the Equality Act.

COLORADO GOV. JARED POLIS, DEMOCRAT: Sadly,  the U.S. Supreme Court decided in favor of discrimination and against student loan relief today. These misguided rulings come one day after the Supreme Court overturned decades of precedent and potentially stifled future educational opportunities. We are committed to building a Colorado for all where the powerful few do not control the freedoms of all Coloradans. Unfortunately, Americans have seen the Supreme Court become increasingly obsessed with taking away freedoms. In Colorado we always seek to protect freedom and end discrimination. These rulings run counter to Colorado values  and we will continue to fight against bigotry and discrimination in all their ugly forms.

STATE SEN. RHONDA FIELDS, D-AURORA: I can’t seem to catch my breath, the same #SCOTUS that overturned Roe, reversed affirmative action to roll back racial justice, today court strips protections for LGBTQ community and NOW refuses to cancel student loan debt. Valuing equality requires acknowledgment of inequality.

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.”

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, for example, the court ruled along ideological lines for a football coach who prayed on the field at his public high school after games. And on Thursday the court in a unanimous decision used the case of a Christian mail carrier who did not want to deliver Amazon packages on Sundays to solidify protections for workers who ask for religious accommodations.

The decision is also a retreat on gay rights for the court. For nearly three decades, the court has expanded the rights of LGBTQ people, most notably giving same-sex couples the right to marry in 2015 and announcing five years later in a decision written by Gorsuch that a landmark civil rights law also protects gay, lesbian and transgender people from employment discrimination.

In the latest decision, however, Gorsuch said that a ruling against Smith would allow the government “to force all manner of artists, speechwriters, and others whose services involve speech to speak what they do not believe on pain of penalty.” For example, a gay website designer could be forced to design websites for an organization that advocates against same-sex marriage, he wrote. “Countless other creative professionals, too, could be forced to choose between remaining silent, producing speech that violates their beliefs, or speaking their minds and incurring sanctions for doing so.”

The court’s dissenting liberal justices led by Justice Sonia Sotomayor warned that the decision will allow a range of businesses to discriminate.

“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,” Sotomayor wrote in a dissent joined by Justice Elena Kagan and Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson.

Sotomayor, who read a summary of her dissent in court to underscore her disagreement, said that 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.

President Joe Biden said in a statement that the ruling was “disappointing,” adding that it “weakens long-standing laws that protect all Americans against discrimination in public accommodations – including people of color, people with disabilities, people of faith, and women.”

Sotomayor referenced the court’s history with the issue of gay rights in her dissent, writing: “The LGBT rights movement has made historic strides, and I am proud of the role this Court has recently played in that history. Today, however, we are taking steps backward.”

“Today is a sad day in American constitutional law and in the lives of LGBT people. … the immediate, symbolic effect of the decision is to mark gays and lesbians for second-class status,” she wrote at another point.

Even as it has expanded gay rights, however, the court has been careful to say those with differing religious views needed to be respected. The belief that marriage can only be between one man and one woman is an idea that “long has been held — and continues to be held — in good faith by reasonable and sincere people here and throughout the world,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the court’s gay marriage decision.

The court returned to that idea five years ago when it was confronted with the case of a Christian baker who objected to designing a cake for a same-sex wedding. The court issued a limited ruling in favor of the baker, Jack Phillips, saying there had been impermissible hostility toward his religious views in the consideration of his case. Phillips’ lawyer, Kristen Waggoner, of the Alliance Defending Freedom, also brought the most recent case to the court. On Friday, she said the Supreme Court was right to reaffirm that the government cannot compel people to say things they do not believe.

“Disagreement isn’t discrimination, and the government can’t mislabel speech as discrimination to censor it,” she said in a statement.

Smith, who owns a Colorado design business called 303 Creative, does not currently create wedding websites. She has said that she wants to but that her Christian faith would prevent her from creating websites celebrating same-sex marriages. And that’s where she ran into conflict with state law.

Colorado, like most other states, has a law forbidding businesses open to the public from discriminating against customers. And about half of the states have laws explicitly prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. 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. Smith argued that applying the law to her violates her First Amendment rights, and the Supreme Court agreed.

The case is 303 Creative LLC v. Elenis, 21-476.

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  1. In the baker’s case, the gay couple clearly, (documented) sought him out to cause a stink. How many other cake bakers were there to choose from? If LGBTQ folks want to be accepted normally, why not accept others? I wish he had the presence of mind to ask, if the expression “made with love” is true, why would they want him to make an integral part of their ceremony, that would certainly NOT be made with love? Would they have just gone away? Maybe.
    I kind of think the website designer deal is the same, even though she was acting in advance of any case. Writing prose that disagreed with her beliefs infringed on her own religious rights, even if I don’t believe as she does, which I very vehemently DO NOT.
    I’m betting there will be plenty of ecumenical bakers and designers for everyone’s occasions, even clearly stated in their advertising. For those of you who go through life with your panties in a twist, try going “commando” and see how much calmer your life can be.

    1. You may be right, thing is, if I wanted a cake made or a website made, I wouldn’t nor should I have to worry about asking someone if by doing so it might “violate “ their religious “beliefs “. Thing is. I’d bet that these people , so called “christens” are any thing but in real life. Bigots? Yeah, christians not so much.

    2. The problem is that no one asked her to design anything. That means she had no standing to bring the case.

      If someone had asked her to design something, and she refused based on her own beliefs, then you would have a “case or controversy”. The Supreme Court is constitutionally limited to deciding “cases and controversies”, actual disputes, not to pronounce legal rules untied to a factual dispute. This was a manufactured case where a right-wing organization invented a “controversy” that didn’t exist.

      This Supreme Court has in fact acted outside the Constitution, outside the grant of power the Constitution gives them. They’re not supposed to just rule on an abstract issue. It’s Congress’ job to write laws for situations that MAY arise. It’s not the Court’s.

      This is a lawless Court. It’s very remarkable. And quite dangerous.

      1. The only reason why 303 Creative (Lori Smith) has not begun offering to build wedding websites and she has not posted her business’s proposed statement of services is that doing so would violate the Accommodation and Communication Clauses of the Public Accommodation Statute and expose her and 303 to penalties and civil liability.

        It’s not necessary that the Public Accommodation Statute be enforced against her in order for there to be an “injury in fact”. An “injury in fact” was recognized that Lori Smith showed that a threatened injury is certainly impending, or there is a substantial risk that a harm will occur. (Tandy v. City of Wichita).

        There fully existed a credible threat of enforcement of the statute for the companies conduct by the Colo. Civil Rights Commission through Colo AG Phil Weiser. The state had made this perfectly clear to her, there was no doubt in her mind. The Masterpiece Bakery legal drama proved her fear from what Colo Government will do.

  2. Follow the money. Neither she nor the baker had the kinds of funds required for this level of legal services. Who is funding discrimination and bigotry through the so called ‘Alliance Defending Freedom’?

  3. The example was a lie. The person noted never asked her to build a website, is in a different state, is himself a web designer and is and has been married to a women. So much for “Christian”

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