WASHINGTON – The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday ruled in favor of a Christian website designer who didn’t want to design wedding sites for LGBTQ couples.
In the case, 303 Creative v. Elenis, a designer preemptively sued the state of Colorado over its public accommodations law, which bars LGBTQ discrimination. The law had been the subject of a previous case, Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado, which didn’t resolve any of the underlying questions. This case does.
The court found that the First Amendment’s free speech protections allow the website designer in refuse to serve same-sex couples. The designer said her work in design was her art and the law imposed control over her artistic expression.
“The Supreme Court’s decision today firmly establishes an exemption to anti-discrimination laws,” said Elana Redfield, federal policy director at the Williams Institute. “If a service is ‘expressive’—which the court finds a wedding website to be—a business may now deny that service in some circumstances, even if it harms LGBT people or other protected groups.”
Illinoisans were not happy. The state is one of the few in the Midwest with laws protecting LGBTQ.
“This ruling ignores long-standing precedent and public norms to say that some businesses can turn some people away because of who they are,” advocacy group Equality Illinois said in a statement. “This is not what Illinoisans want. Illinoisans want a state where all people—including LGBTQ+ people—are equally welcomed in public spaces across the state. We know this because Illinoisans have spoken through their elected leaders to champion the cause of equality and fairness.”
The group said it would work with collaborate with other organizations and with officials to defend the non-discrimination protections in the Illinois Human Rights Act.
“Our antidiscrimination laws, including the Illinois Human Rights Act, exist to protect the rights of vulnerable communities,” said Illinois Department of Human Rights (IDHR) Director Jim Bennett. “Before these protections were codified into law, businesses like banks, hotels, restaurants, and bars, posted signs and publicly refused to serve people who were not white, straight, male, able-bodied, or neurotypical. The court had an opportunity to strengthen anti-discrimination laws, but instead, it chose to harm LGBTQ people by relegating them to second-class status. They deserve far better from our nation’s highest court.”
Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker (D) blasted the ruling, saying it weaponized using religious freedom for bigotry.
“Throughout its 234-year legacy, the court has repeatedly had the opportunity to lead on the right side of history,” he said. “Sometimes it has embraced that mantle of courage; but in its darkest hours, it has pushed civil rights to the wayside in the name of a retrograde agenda. Not yet ten years out from Obergefell, this court has turned its back on its mandate to protect the civil rights of all Americans.”
Activists in neighboring states, without the legal protection Illinois has, did not hold back.
“The Court has upended decades of precedent and relied on fabricated facts in order to get to their preferred conclusion,” said One Iowa Executive Director Courtney Reyes. “The ongoing erosion of the court’s credibility is of their own making. Rather than adhere to the clearly established precedent that considers protecting civil rights among the most compelling of government interests, the court again grants special treatment to their preferred brand of Christianity.”
“For the first time, the court has granted businesses a constitutional right to discriminate against a protected class, endangering and further marginalizing the LGBTQ community,” said Chris Hartman, executive director of Kentucky’s Fairness Campaign. “Despite the fact that the case was built on a falsehood – no LGBTQ couple had asked 303 Creative for a wedding website – the court has seized this opportunity to erode LGBTQ discrimination protections all across our country.”
The Williams Institute has documented a history of discrimination in public accommodations. A 2016 study found that LGBT people experienced discrimination in public accommodations at rates similar to those of women and people of color. The study was cited by Justice Sonia Sotomayor in her dissenting opinion in today’s decision.
In her dissent, Sotomayor said that “discrimination is not simply dollars and cents, hamburgers and movies; it is the humiliation, frustration, and embarrassment that a person must surely feel when he is told that he is unacceptable as a member of the public because of his social identity…This ostracism, this otherness, is among the most distressing feelings that can be felt by our social species.”
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