Supreme Court Delivers Blow To LGBTQ Rights

The Supreme Court ruled on Friday that a Christian web designer has a First Amendment right to refuse to create websites for same-sex weddings.

The decision, made by a 6-3 vote, dilutes legal protections for LGBTQ people and allows for potential discrimination in businesses. Lorie Smith, the evangelical Christian web designer from Colorado, argued that her free speech rights should exempt her from Colorado’s law that bars businesses from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation. The conservative justices agreed, ruling that Smith has the right to provide design services for opposite-sex weddings while refusing same-sex weddings.

Justice Neil Gorsuch, who wrote the majority opinion, stated that Colorado was attempting to force Smith to speak in a way that contradicts her conscience on a matter of major significance. He also emphasized the importance of tolerance and the freedom of speech, noting that encountering ideas we consider unattractive or misguided is part of protecting those cherished liberties.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor, writing the dissent, said the court’s ruling was part of “a backlash to the movement for liberty and equality for gender and sexual minorities” and a type of “reactionary exclusion,” calling it “heartbreaking.”

Sotomayor read portions of her dissent from the bench, expressing her strong disagreement, saying that the decision allowing Smith to sell her product only to opposite-sex couples “makes a mockery of the law.”

She compared Smith’s situation to historic cases of racial discrimination in which restaurants would refuse to serve Black people inside but would allow them to collect pick-up orders from a side counter, effectively treating them like second-class citizens.

The ruling Friday in 303 Creative v. Elenis marks an apparent end to a remarkable series of Supreme Court victories for gay and transgender Americans over the past two decades, including a 2003 decision overturning anti-sodomy laws, a 2013 ruling mandating federal recognition of same-sex marriage by overturning a key provision of the Defense of Marriage Act, a landmark 2015 decision requiring states to permit same-sex marriages and a surprise 2020 ruling that existing protections against sex discrimination in employment cover discrimination based on sexual orientation or for being transgender.

It is worth noting that the court’s conservative majority did not directly address the question of how the ruling could affect legal precedents rejecting similar First Amendment arguments from business owners who sought to avoid serving Black customers. The decision in this case could have wider implications, potentially allowing businesses to discriminate against prospective customers based on protected characteristics.

The ruling has raised concerns among LGBTQ advocates about potential legal setbacks and the future trajectory of LGBTQ rights. While the current conservative-leaning Supreme Court may be more inclined to incrementally cut back LGBTQ rights rather than overturn major decisions on same-sex marriage, the decision in this case indicates a shift in the court’s stance on the issue. Justice Clarence Thomas, in his concurrence accompanying a previous ruling on abortion rights, expressed his favor for revisiting the decision that recognized a federal constitutional right to same-sex marriage.


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