Kentucky court sides with owner who refused printing gay pride shirts

By Eric DuVall   |   Updated May 13, 2017 at 4:53 PM
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May 13 (UPI) -- A Kentucky appeals court ruled in favor of a Christian T-shirt store owner who, in 2012, refused to print shirts promoting the Lexington, Ky., gay pride festival.

The case is the most recent in a string of legal disputes testing the extent to which LGBT individuals are protected from discrimination in the wake of the Supreme Court's landmark ruling legalizing same-sex marriage the same year the case originated.

Other courts have largely ruled in favor of same-sex couples who have sued business owners, including florists, cake-makers and photographers who refused to provide service for their weddings, citing their religious beliefs.

The Kentucky case is unique in that the service being disputed on First Amendment grounds is literally the printing of words on T-shirts. The shirts were to contain a stylized numeral 5, signifying the fifth anniversary of the festival's founding, along with the words "Lexington Pride Festival" and a list of sponsors on the back.

Citing a Fayette County ordinance prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation, the county's Human Rights Commission ruled against the store, Hands on Originals and its owner Blaine Adamson, who sued to overturn the ruling. A lower court ruled invalidated the commission's finding, which did not include any punitive damages against Adamson.

In a split 2-1 decision, the appeals court ruled in favor of Hands On Originals, saying the county ordinance did not mean Adamson is required to promote a group's message if it violates his religious beliefs.

Adamson told local officials he would serve LGBT individuals at his store so long as the shirts they ordered did not promote their sexuality. He said he refused to print the pride festival shirts because "it's advocating pride in being gay and being homosexual, and I can't promote that message."

A rival Cincinnati-based T-shirt company eventually donated 500 of the shirts to the festival as a show of support.

Writing for the majority, Kentucky Appellate Court Chief Judge Joy Kramer said LGBT rights were not discriminated against because the county's ordinance does not guarantee individuals the right to use other people's property to amplify their message.

"The right of free speech does not guarantee to any person the right to use someone else's property," Kramer wrote. "In other words, the 'service' Hands On Originals offers is the promotion of messages. The 'conduct' Hands On Originals chose not to promote was pure speech."

Judge Jeff Taylor wrote in dissent that granting individuals the right to censor the LGBT community's message would render the county's nondiscrimination ordinance essentially meaningless.

"Effectively, that would mean that the ordinance protects gays or lesbians only to the extent they do not publicly display their same-gender sexual orientation," he wrote. "This result would be totally contrary to legislative intent and undermine the legislative policy of the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government, since the ordinance logically must protect against discriminatory conduct that is inextricably tied to sexual orientation or gender identity. Otherwise, the ordinance would have limited or no force or effect."

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