Justices Question Effect if They Back Designer on Gay Weddings

Colorado business owner only wants to build websites for heterosexual couples
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 5, 2022 4:45 PM CST
Justices Question Effect if They Back Designer on Gay Weddings
A person holds a sign that reads "There's No Hate Like Christian Love" as people on both sides of a debate rally Monday outside the Supreme Court in Washington.   (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Supreme Court justices who appeared supportive of a graphic designer seeking to refuse to create websites in celebration of same-sex weddings nevertheless had questions Monday about how anti-discrimination laws might be affected. The case involves a Colorado design company owner who says she serves gay customers, the New York Times reports. But Lorie Smith maintains she has a First Amendment right to only provide wedding services to heterosexual couples because celebrating gay unions would be at odds with her Christian faith. The justices posed a series of hypothetical questions to lawyers for 2½ hours, per NBC News.

The three justices nominated by Democratic presidents expressed concern about how a ruling in favor of Smith might harm anti-discrimination efforts. Others looked for sometimes-fine lines, including the differences between discrimination based on race and bias based on sexual orientation, between businesses involving expression and those that sell goods, and between a client's message and the designer's. One hypothetical from Justice Samuel Alito was about a "Black Santa" at a shopping mall sending away children dressed in Ku Klux Klan outfits. Colorado solicitor general Erik Olson said Klan outfits are not "protected characteristics" under the state anti-bias law Smith is challenging.

Justice Clarence Thomas made a distinction during arguments between Smith's business and those that have historically been required to serve everyone. "This is not a hotel. This is not a restaurant. This is not a riverboat or a train," Thomas said, per NBC. The court ruled in favor of a Colorado baker in 2016 who refused to make a wedding cake for a gay couple, also citing his Christian faith, though the justices didn't decide the broader issues on the table in Smith's case. Colorado is being supported by 20 mostly liberal states, including California, while another 20 states, most of them Republican-led, are supporting Smith, the AP reports. (Read more US Supreme Court stories.)

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