(WASHINGTON) — The Supreme Court on Monday is hearing the case of a Christian graphic artist who objects to designing wedding websites for gay couples, a dispute that is the latest clash between religion and gay rights in the country before the Supreme Court.
The designer and her supporters say a verdict against her would force artists – from painters and photographers to writers and musicians – to work against their beliefs. Her opponents, meanwhile, say a number of companies will be able to discriminate if she wins, including refusing to serve black customers, Jewish or Muslim people, mixed-race or interfaith couples, or immigrants.
The case comes at a time when the court is dominated 6-3 by Conservatives and after a string of cases in which judges have sided with religious plaintiffs. It also comes as lawmakers in Congress are finalizing a landmark law protecting same-sex marriage across the street from the courthouse.
The bill, which also protects interracial marriage, steadily gained momentum after the Supreme Court’s decision earlier this year to end constitutional protections for abortion. This decision, the case of Roe v. Overturning Wade’s 1973 ruling raised questions about whether the court — now that it’s more conservative — could also overturn its 2015 decision, which declared a statewide right to same-sex marriage. Judge Clarence Thomas specifically said the decision should also be reconsidered.
The case, which will be heard in the Supreme Court on Monday, involves Lorie 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. But that could get them 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, she must make them available to all clients. Companies that break the law can be subject to fines, among other things.
Five years ago, the Supreme Court heard another lawsuit involving Colorado law and a baker, Jack Phillips, who objected to designing a wedding cake for a gay couple. However, that case ended in a limited decision and resulted in the matter being referred back to the High Court. Phillips’ attorney, Kristen Waggoner of the Alliance Defending Freedom, is now representing Smith.
Like Phillips, Smith says her objection is not to work with gay people. She says she would work with a gay client who needed help with things like graphics for an animal shelter or to support an organization for children with disabilities. But she refuses to create messages that support same-sex marriage, she says, just as she won’t take jobs that would require her to create content that promotes atheism or gambling or supports abortion.
Smith says Colorado law violates her right to free speech. Her opponents, including the Biden administration and groups like the American Civil Liberties Union, the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, disagree.
Twenty mostly Liberal states, including California and New York, support Colorado, while another 20 mostly Republican states, including Arizona, Indiana, Ohio and Tennessee, support Smith.
The case is 303 Creative LLC v. Elenis, 21-476.
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