Several organizations, including Catholic groups, have filed amicus briefs in a U.S. Supreme Court case which could decide whether non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ+ couples are enforceable, according to Crux.
The case, 303 Creative v. Elenis, is being taken up by the nation’s highest court in its current session. It concerns plaintiff Lorie Smith, a web designer from Colorado who claims a First Amendment right to deny her services to same-gender couples’ weddings. The suit is being brought against members of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission (CCRC).
Two LGBTQ+ Catholic advocacy groups, New Ways Ministry and DignityUSA, signed onto a pro-CCRC brief from 30 groups which support LGBTQ+ non-discrimination protections. The brief reads, in part:
“‘Carving out this broad exemption would allow public businesses to legally exclude customers based on their identities. . .instead of safeguarding every citizen’s right to buy goods and services from businesses open to the public. . .[the proposed exemption] would further hurt the very people these civil rights laws were designed to protect.'”
On the other side, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Colorado Catholic Conference filed an amicus brief in favor of the LGBTQ-negative plaintiff. The brief appeals to Justice Clarence Thomas, who now holds greater influence on the court given the conservative supermajority, which will decide the direction of the court this year. Right wing religious groups like Catholic Vote, the Thomas More Society, and Becket have also filed briefs.
The case is a follow-up from the Supreme Court’s 2020 case Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, which ruled that CCRC mishandled a case involving a cake shop owner who refused service to same-gender couples. The court’s decision in that case did not address the larger question of whether business owners should have the legal right to discriminate against LGBTQ+ couples when providing service. Crux reported:
“One difference is that in the current case, the artist, Lorie Smith, is not fighting a specific incident, as was the baker who denied baking a custom cake for a same-sex couple. Smith wants the court to weigh in before she is even asked to design a website for a same-sex couple.
“Even though she does not wish to provide a service based on her Christian beliefs about marriage, the case hinges on her freedom of speech claim.
“[Law professor Amanda] Shanor said Supreme Court preview panels in 2017 likely didn’t predict the baker winning, but now she already is pretty sure the court will likely rule in the artist’s favor and said the case could have broad implications about who can be viewed as an artist.”
Several other civil rights and LGBTQ+ advocacy organizations have filed amicus briefs in favor of CCRC. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has filed a brief that cites the 1984 civil rights case Hishon v. King & Spalding, which, the ACLU argues, states the constitution does not protect discrimination perpetrated by public businesses:
“Discrimination by businesses open to the public ‘has never been accorded affirmative constitutional protections.’”
Lambada Legal, GLAD, the Human Rights Campaign, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, and the National LGBTQ Task Force filed a joint brief in support of CCRC. The brief highlighted the potential for a re-segregation of the U.S. economy, which could occur if businesses are allowed to discriminate against customers on the basis of sexual orientation:
“This Court has repeatedly rejected attempts to create First Amendment exemptions to public accommodations and other anti-discrimination laws. The departure urged by Petitioners from this longstanding settlement of civil rights law invites a regression to segregated marketplaces.”
Mary Bonauto, the civil rights director for GLAD, further illustrated the problems which would occur if business owners received constitutional protections to deny services to customers:
“‘People shouldn’t have to call ahead to find out if a business serves people of their faith or other personal characteristics.'”
Shannon Minter, legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, argued that constitutional protections for anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination would cause further societal division:
“‘We are one country, and ensuring that everyone has equal access to commercial goods and services plays an essential role in preventing social conflict and fragmentation.'”
Given that the Supreme Court is notably more conservative than it was when Masterpiece Cakeshop came before the justices, the outlook for LGBTQ+ advocates is less optimistic.
The USCCB should not use church resources to pursue legalizing discrimination against LGBTQ+ people. Efforts to legitimize the denial of services to queer people undermines the dignity of all people, and is an affront to the image of God in which all human beings are made.
—Andru Zodrow (he/him), New Ways Ministry, October 14, 2022