The U.S. Supreme Court's conservative majority ruled that the constitutional right to free speech allows certain businesses to refuse to provide services for same-sex weddings, a decision that the dissenting liberal justices called a "license to discriminate."
The justices ruled 6-3 along ideological lines in favor of Denver-area web designer Lorie Smith, who cited her Christian beliefs in challenging a Colorado anti-discrimination law. The justices overturned a lower court's ruling that had rejected Smith's bid for an exemption from a Colorado law that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and other factors.
Conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote in the ruling that Colorado's law would force Smith to create speech that she does not believe, in violation of the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment. "Were the rule otherwise, the better the artist, the finer the writer, the more unique his talent, the more easily his voice could be conscripted to disseminate the government's preferred messages. That would not respect the First Amendment; more nearly, it would spell its demise", Gorsuch wrote.
The court's three liberal justices dissented. Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote: "Today, the Court, for the first time in its history, grants a business open to the public a constitutional right to refuse to serve members of a protected class." And she added: "By issuing this new license to discriminate in a case brought by a company that seeks to deny same-sex couples the full and equal enjoyment of its services, the immediate, symbolic effect of the decision is to mark gays and lesbians for second-class status".
President Joe Biden criticized the ruling: "In America, no person should face discrimination simply because of who they are or who they love. More broadly, today's decision weakens long-standing laws that protect all Americans against discrimination in public accommodations - including people of color, people with disabilities, people of faith and women".
For years, the justices have side-stepped the difficult issue presented by business owners who don't want to comply with public accommodation laws for same-sex weddings. Florists, photographers, and a baker all went to court arguing that they should not have to use their artistry for same-sex weddings. But the court either declined to review lower court rulings or, in the case of the baker who refused to make a custom wedding cake for a same-sex couple, the court punted.
Now, however, the new conservative supermajority (appointed by Trump) reached out in an unusually aggressive manner, agreeing to decide a case in which nobody had yet filed a claim of discrimination.
Read the decision here.
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