Gay hiking

High Court takes up case over refusal to serve gay couples

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court has agreed to hear a new dispute involving religion and LGBTQ rights in the case of a Colorado web designer who says his religious beliefs prevent him from offering services. wedding website designs to gay couples.

The high court said on Tuesday it would hear Lorie Smith’s case. Denver-area designer offers graphic and website design services and wants to expand wedding website services, but says her Christian beliefs would lead her to refuse any request from a same-sex couple to design a wedding website. She also wants to post a statement on her website about her beliefs. Doing these things, however, would violate a Colorado anti-discrimination law. Smith had argued that the law violated his free speech and religious rights.

The Supreme Court said in taking up the case that it would only consider the issue of free speech. He said he would decide whether a law requiring an artist to speak or remain silent violates the First Amendment’s free speech clause. The case is expected to go to trial in the fall.

Smith’s attorney, Kristen Waggoner, said in a statement after the court agreed to hear the case that “Colorado has weaponized its law to silence speech it disagrees with, to compel the speeches he approves of and to punish anyone who dares to disagree”.

Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser said the Supreme Court has always held that anti-discrimination laws like his state’s apply to all businesses selling goods and services.

“Companies cannot turn away LGBT customers just because of who they are, Weiser said in an emailed statement. “We will vigorously defend the laws of Colorado, which protect all Coloradans by preventing discrimination and respecting free speech.”

In a 2-1 decision last year, the Denver-based 10th United States Circuit Court of Appeals rejected Smith’s attempt to overturn a lower court decision dismissing his legal challenge. The panel said Colorado has a compelling interest in protecting the “dignity interests” of members of marginalized groups through its law, the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act.

The law, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, is the same as that at issue in the case of Colorado baker Jack Phillips which was decided in 2018 by the United States Supreme Court.

The high court said at the time that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission acted with an anti-religious bias against Phillips after he refused to bake a cake for two men who were getting married. But he did not comment on the broader question of whether a company can raise religious objections to refuse to serve LGBTQ people.

The Arizona-based Alliance Defending Freedom represented Phillips and Smith.