Supreme Court rules in favor of web designer, limits LGBTQ legal rights

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a business owner's First Amendment rights allows her to refuse to design websites celebrating same-sex marriage. Photo by Ken Cedeno/UPI
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a business owner's First Amendment rights allows her to refuse to design websites celebrating same-sex marriage. Photo by Ken Cedeno/UPI | License Photo

June 30 (UPI) -- The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Friday that the First Amendment protects an artist and wedding website designer from being compelled to create designs celebrating same-sex marriage.

In the case of 303 Creative LLC vs. Elenis, the court ruled 6-3 that Lorie Smith is within her First Amendment rights to refuse to create designs that carry messages inconsistent with her faith, including designing websites for same-sex weddings.


Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote in the majority opinion that the state of Colorado was seeking to compel Smith to speak in a way she objected to and that violated her First Amendment rights.

"The First Amendment envisions the United States as a rich and complex place where all persons are free to think and speak as they wish, not as the government demands," he wrote.


Smith had said she wouldn't refuse LGBTQ customers, but would only create generic wedding websites for them while refusing requests for designs that celebrate same-sex marriages.

Gorsuch added that the First Amendment should provide "tolerance, not coercion" to people with ideas considered "'unattractive,' 'misguided,' 'or even hurtful.'"

"The opportunity to think for ourselves and to express those thoughts freely is among our most cherished liberties and part of what keeps our Republic strong," he wrote.

Justices Sonia Sotomayor dissented with Justices Elena Kagan and Katanji Brown Jackson joining.

In writing the dissent, Sotomayor said the court had held that the company has a right to post a notice that says, "'no [wedding websites] will be sold if they will be used for gay marriages" and described it as a "sad day in American constitutional law and the lives of LGBT people."

"The First Amendment does not entitle petitioners to a special exemption from a state law that simply requires them to serve all members of the public on equal terms. Such a law does not directly regulate petitioners' speech at all, and petitioners may not escape the law by claiming an expressive interest in discrimination," she wrote.


She said Smith had never sold a wedding website to any customer, but only planned to.

"LGBT people have existed for all of human history. And as sure as they have existed, others have sought to deny their existence, and to exclude them from public life," the dissent said. "Those who would subordinate LGBT people have often done so with the backing of law."

She said opponents of the 1964 Civil Rights Act argued that serving Black people would violate their beliefs by denying them freedom to speak or act based on their religious convictions and they lost in court.

Sotomayor said this decision threatens to allow the exclusion of other groups from many services offered to the public.

"A website designer could equally refuse to create a wedding website for an interracial couple, for example," Sotomayor wrote in the dissent.

Cornell Law School professor G.S. Hans, a constitutional law expert, said in a statement to UPI, that the ruling ratifies a First Amendment right to discriminate."

"It sends absolutely the wrong message, continuing the trend of First Amendment cases striking down regulations at a moment when LGBTQ communities are facing so many challenges," Hans said.

Hans added the case "should have been thrown out years ago" due to serious factual problems and legal standing issues.


"While the repercussions of this ruling for public accommodations will play out over the coming years, no one should feel confident given this Supreme Court's disregard for anti-discrimination principles," Hans added.

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