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Gay Rights And Religion Clash At The Supreme Court

A Colorado web designer is at the center of a controversial case for refusing to design websites for gay couples because of her Christian beliefs.
Posted at 10:08 AM, Dec 06, 2022

The Supreme Court 's conservative majority sounded sympathetic Monday to a Christian graphic artist who objects to designing wedding websites for gay couples, the latest collision of religion and gay rights to land at the high court.

The designer and her supporters say that ruling against her would force artists — from painters and photographers to writers and musicians — to do work that is against their beliefs. Her opponents, meanwhile, say that if she wins, a range of businesses will be able to discriminate, refusing to serve Black, Jewish or Muslim customers, interracial or interfaith couples or immigrants.

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The Colorado case is the latest clash of religion and gay rights to land at the high court. A case involving a Colorado baker and a wedding cake for a gay couple ended with a limited decision five years ago and is to return to the court.

While the Justices sparred inside the courthouse, demonstrators from both sides of the argument gathered outside. A freedom of speech group offered a long list of speakers making their points about the importance of free speech, while a smaller group of counter demonstrators, many holding LGBTQ+ flags, did their best to muffle out the speakers by using blow horns and megaphones.

Over more than two hours of spirited arguments, the justices repeatedly tested out what ruling for the designer could mean, using detailed and sometimes colorful hypothetical scenarios. Those included a Black Santa asked to take a picture with a child dressed in a Ku Klux Klan outfit, a photographer asked to take pictures for the marital infidelity website Ashley Madison, and an invented food business called "Grandma Helen's Protestant Provisions."

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The case comes at a time when the court is dominated 6-3 by conservatives and follows a series of cases in which the justices have sided with religious plaintiffs. Across the street from the court, meanwhile, lawmakers in Congress are finalizing what would be a landmark bill protecting same-sex marriage, legislation prompted by a different high court case from earlier this year.

During arguments Monday the court's three liberal justices expressed concerns about ruling for website designer and graphic artist Lorie Smith while conservatives suggested support for her.

Justice Neil Gorsuch, one of three high court appointees of former President Donald Trump, described Smith as “an individual who says she will sell and does sell to everyone, all manner of websites, (but) that she won’t sell a website that requires her to express a view about marriage that she finds offensive.”

Smith, who is based in Colorado, doesn't currently create wedding websites. She wants to but says her Christian faith prevents her from creating websites celebrating same-sex marriages.

Colorado, like most other states, has what’s called a public accommodation law that says if Smith offers wedding websites to the public, she must provide them to all customers. Businesses that violate the law can be fined, among other things.

Smith says the law violates her First Amendment rights. The state disagrees.

Smith's opponents include the Biden administration, the American Civil Liberties Union and the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund. Twenty mostly liberal states, including California and New York, are supporting Colorado, while 20 other mostly Republican states are supporting Smith.

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.