Web Designer Who Refused To Create Gay Marriage Websites Loses Case
DENVER (AP) – A US appeals court has ruled against a web designer who did not want to build marriage websites for same-sex couples and has taken legal action to challenge the anti-discrimination law of Colorado, another twist in a series of nationwide court decisions about whether companies denying services to LGBTQ people constitute bias or free speech.
A three-judge panel of the 10th U.S. Court of Appeals in Denver on Monday rejected Lorie Smith’s attempt to overturn a lower court ruling dismissing her legal challenge.
The Defending Freedom Alliance, which represents Smith, argued that the law forced her to violate her Christian beliefs.
In Decision 2-1, the panel said Colorado has a compelling interest in protecting the “dignity interests” of members of marginalized groups through its law.
The anti-discrimination law is the same as that at issue in the case of Colorado baker Jack Phillips which was decided in 2018 by the Supreme Court of the United States.
The High Court ruled that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission acted with anti-religious bias against Phillips after refusing to bake a cake for two men who were to be married. But he did not rule on the larger question of whether a company can raise religious objections to refuse to serve LGBTQ people.
The Defending Freedom Alliance, based in Scottsdale, Ariz., Also represented Phillips. Founded in 1994 by Christian leaders concerned about religious freedom, the group said it would appeal Monday’s decision.
“The government should never force Hanime creative professionals to promote a message or cause with which they disagree. It is the epitome of free speech and artistic freedom, ”group lead counsel John Bursch said in a statement.
Lambda Legal, a group that fights for the civil rights of LGBTQ people, submitted a brief supporting Colorado law.
“It’s really not about cakes, websites or flowers,” Jennifer C. Pizer, senior counsel for Lambda Legal, said in a statement. “It’s about protecting LGBTQ people and their families from slammed doors, denial of service and public humiliation in countless places – from fertility clinics to funeral homes and everywhere in between. ”
In arguments Before the three-judge panel in November, Chief Justice Timothy Tymkovich asked what Smith would do if approached by a straight wedding planner asking her to set up four straight marriage sites and one for a same-sex marriage. Kristen Wagoner, an attorney for the alliance, said Smith would not take the post.
Colorado Solicitor General Eric Olson asked if Smith should even be allowed to challenge the law since she had yet to start offering wedding websites.
But if she did, Olson said, her argument would mean she would refuse to set up a website for a hypothetical gay couple named Alex and Taylor, but would agree to set up the same website for a straight couple with the same names. He said it would be discrimination under the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
In the case of Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, Olson said the Supreme Court couldn’t agree that cakes were a form of expression. However, he said a subjective decision as to whether a company’s service amounted to speech was not a practical way to determine discrimination.
Judge Mary Beck Briscoe wrote in the majority opinion on Monday that “We must also consider the serious damage done when public housing discriminates on the basis of race, religion, sex or sexual orientation. . Combating such discrimination is, like individual autonomy, “essential” to our democratic ideals. ”
In his dissent, Tymkovich wrote that “this case illustrates exactly why we have a First Amendment. Properly applied, the Constitution protects Ms. Smith from the government telling her what to say or do.
In 2019, a divided panel of three judges from the 8th U.S. Court of Appeals ruled in favor of two Christian filmmakers who said they shouldn’t have to make videos celebrating same-sex marriage under the law. Minnesota anti-discrimination because videos are a form of speech protected by the First Amendment.
The court restored a lawsuit brought by Carl and Angel Larsen of Telescope Media Group in St. Cloud. They are also represented by Alliance Defending Freedom.