WASHINGTON (AP) — The conservative majority of the Supreme Court on Monday expressed sympathy for a Christian graphic artist who opposes designing wedding websites for gay couples — a dispute depicting the recent clash between religion and gay rights before the to land in the highest court.
The designer and her supporters say a verdict against her would force artists – from painters and photographers to writers and musicians – to do work that goes against their beliefs. Opponents, meanwhile, say that if they win, a number of companies could discriminate, including refusing to serve black customers, Jews or Muslims, interracial or interfaith couples, or immigrants.
In more than two hours of heated argument, the judges repeatedly tested what the decision could mean for the designer using detailed and sometimes colorful hypothetical scenarios. These included a black Santa who was asked to take a picture with a child in Ku Klux Klan outfit, a photographer who was asked to take pictures for Jewish dating website JDate and also for spousal infidelity website Ashley Madison to make, and a grocery store called “Grandma Helen’s”. Protestant provisions.”
Judge Neil Gorsuch, one of former President Donald Trump’s three Supreme Court nominees, described Lorie Smith, the website designer in the case, as “a person who says she will and does sell to all kinds of websites (but )” that she will not sell a website that requires her to express an opinion about marriage that she finds offensive.”
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Where to draw the line on what a company could do without violating state anti-discrimination laws was a big question in Monday’s arguments in the Supreme Court.
Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson asked whether a photo shop in a mall could refuse to take pictures of black people on Santa’s lap.
“Their policy is that only white children can be photographed with Santa in this way because that’s how they see the Santa scenes that they’re trying to portray,” Jackson said.
Judge Sonia Sotomayor repeatedly pressed Kristen Waggoner, Smith’s attorney, over other categories. “How about people who don’t believe in interracial marriage? Or with people who don’t believe that people with disabilities should get married? Where is the limit?” asked Sotomayor.
But Judge Samuel Alito, who appeared to endorse Smith, asked whether it was “fair to equate opposition to same-sex marriage to opposition to interracial marriage”?
The case comes at a time when the court is dominated 6-3 by Conservatives and follows a series of cases in which judges have sided with religious plaintiffs. Across the street from the courthouse, lawmakers in the Capitol are working to finalize a landmark bill protecting same-sex marriage.
The proposed law, which would also protect interracial marriage, has gained momentum after the Supreme Court’s decision earlier this year to overturn constitutional protections for abortion. This decision, the Roe v. Overturning Wade’s 1973 ruling raised the question of whether the court — now more conservative — could also overturn its 2015 decision that declared a statewide right to same-sex marriage. Judge Clarence Thomas specifically said the decision should be reconsidered.
The case, which will be heard in the Supreme Court Monday, involves Smith, a graphic artist and website designer in Colorado who wants to start offering wedding websites. Smith says her Christian faith prevents her from creating websites celebrating same-sex marriages.
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“Ms. Smith believes that opposite-sex marriage respects Scripture and same-sex marriage is contrary to it,” Waggoner told the judges.
But offering wedding websites to same-sex couples and refusing to build them for same-sex couples could get Smith in trouble with state law. Colorado, like most other states, has something called the Public Accommodations Act, which states that if Smith offers wedding websites to the public, he must make them available to all customers. Companies that break the law can be fined, among other things.
Five years ago, the Supreme Court heard another challenge involving Colorado law and a baker, Jack Phillips, who objected to designing a wedding cake for a gay couple. This case ended in a limited decision and resulted in the matter being returned to the Supreme Court. Alliance Defending Freedom’s Waggoner also represented Phillips.
Like Phillips, Smith says her objection is not to work with gay people. Her lawyer said she had gay clients. But she refuses to create messages supporting same-sex marriage any more than she would create a website for a couple who met while both were married to other people and then divorced.
Smith says Colorado law violates her right to free speech. Her opponents, including the Biden administration, the American Civil Liberties Union and the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, disagree.
Twenty mostly liberal states, including California and New York, support Colorado, while 20 other mostly Republican states, including Arizona, Indiana, Ohio and Tennessee, support Smith.
The case is 303 Creative LLC v. Elenis, 21-476.