Supreme Court hears LGBTQ+ case with major implications for Connecticut
Connecticut’s anti-discrimination law could be in jeopardy following a major LGBTQ+ rights case heard by the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday. The case involves a Christian graphic artist who objects to designing wedding websites for same-sex couples.
Lorie Smith is challenging Colorado’s discrimination law. She argues it violates her First Amendment right to free speech.
"Colorado is trying to force me to create custom unique artwork to promote ideas inconsistent with my faith and the core of who I am,” Smith told CNN.
Connecticut’s law is nearly identical to Colorado’s. If Smith wins, Democratic state Attorney General William Tong believes businesses could refuse to serve immigrants, as well as Black, Jewish or Muslim customers – all in the name of free speech.
"I can't do anything about the fact that I'm an Asian American – a Chinese American,” said Tong. “And if you can start discriminating against people, I guess you could discriminate against me, William Tong, and my family."
LGBTQ+ advocates like Triangle Community Center in Norwalk are watching the case closely. Executive director Edson Rivas said gay and transgender residents face subtle discrimination, especially from landlords.
“Simply that, they don't believe it that, and they shouldn't be providing services,” he said.
Back at the Supreme Court, over more than two hours of heated arguments, the justices repeatedly tested out what ruling for the designer could mean, using detailed and sometimes colorful hypothetical scenarios. Those included a Black Santa asked to take a picture with a child dressed in a Ku Klux Klan outfit, a photographer asked to take pictures for the Jewish dating website JDate and also the marital infidelity website Ashley Madison, and a food business called “Grandma Helen’s Protestant Provisions.”
Justice Neil Gorsuch, one of three high court appointees of former President Donald Trump, described Smith as “an individual who says she will sell and does sell to everyone, all manner of websites, [but] that she won’t sell a website that requires her to express a view about marriage that she finds offensive.”
Where to draw the line for what a business might do without violating state anti-discrimination laws was a big question in Monday’s arguments at the high court.
Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson asked whether a photography store in a shopping mall could refuse to take pictures of Black people on Santa’s lap.
“Their policy is that only white children can be photographed with Santa in this way, because that’s how they view the scenes with Santa that they’re trying to depict,” Jackson said.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor repeatedly pressed Kristen Waggoner, the lawyer for Smith, over other categories. “How about people who don’t believe in interracial marriage? Or about people who don’t believe that disabled people should get married? Where’s the line?” Sotomayor asked.
The president of the conservative Family Institute of Connecticut said Smith is fighting for basic First Amendment rights.
"A win for Lorie Smith would be a win for everybody,” said FIC president Peter Wolfgang. "Every American should have the right to free speech. No one should be coerced by the government to say things that they don't believe."
Rivas, the head of Triangle Community Center, insisted he’s not attacking religious belief.
"I will hold up that right for you to believe whatever you'd like to believe and have those rights to do so,” he said. “But that should never infringe on my right to also live as a human being."
Five years ago, the Supreme Court heard a different challenge involving Colorado’s law and a baker, Jack Phillips, who objected to designing a wedding cake for a gay couple. That case ended with a limited decision and set up a return of the issue to the high court. Waggoner, of the Alliance Defending Freedom, also represented Phillips.
Like Phillips, Smith says her objection is not to working with gay people. She has had gay clients, her lawyer said. But she objects to creating messages supporting same-sex marriage, just as she wouldn’t create a website for a couple who met while they both were married to other people and then divorced.
AP wires contributed to this report.