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Supreme Court Poised to Side With Anti-LGBTQ Web Designer in Discrimination Case

The plaintiff claims that a Colorado law barring anti-LGBTQ discrimination violates her religious freedoms.

Demonstrators in favor of LGBT rights rally outside the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., on October 8, 2019.

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a lawsuit brought by an evangelical Christian web designer who alleges that a Colorado law barring discrimination based on sexual orientation is in violation of her religious freedoms.

Lorie Smith, a web designer from the Denver area who runs a company called 303 Creative, preemptively sued Colorado over the law, claiming that she feared she would be punished for refusing to design wedding websites for same-sex couples.

Despite her lawsuit, Smith has never been forced to design a wedding website for a same-sex couple, Slate’s senior writer Mark Joseph Stern pointed out.

“There’s no actual victim here,” Stern wrote on Twitter, adding that Smith and her legal team have “fashioned [herself] into the victim of a tyrannical state hellbent on persecuting her.”

Doing so “erase[s] *real* victims from this line of cases — the actual, living, breathing victims of anti-gay discrimination — and refashion[s] the discriminator as the victim,” he went on.

Smith, who is being represented by the anti-LGBTQ organization Alliance Defending Freedom, claims that her Christian principles forbid her from providing services to LGBTQ couples. In lower court rulings, federal judges have sided with Colorado and kept the anti-discrimination law in place — but conservative members of the Supreme Court have made statements that appear sympathetic to Smith.

Liberal justices questioned whether siding with Smith in the case, as the conservative bloc seems poised to do, would open the door to other forms of discrimination. Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, for instance, asked if a shopping mall could prohibit Black children from getting holiday pictures taken with Santa if 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.”

Justice Sonia Sotomayor engaged in a similar line of questioning.

“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.

Conservative Justice Samuel Alito dismissed Sotomayor’s fears, questioning whether it was “fair to equate opposition to same-sex marriage to opposition to interracial marriage.”

Legal observers noted that the Court’s 6-3 conservative majority appeared to view the case as an opportunity to advance their right-wing Christian nationalist agenda.

The Supreme Court’s conservatives see this case as “an opportunity … to forcefully re-draw the line (and change the law) in favor of religious practice, even where it entails discrimination,” said Los Angeles Times legal affairs columnist Harry Litman.

Others expressed similar viewpoints on social media.

“Lorie Smith brought a case to the US Supreme Court WITH NO STANDING OR INJURY. As in, it’s all hypothetical, nobody did anything or made her do anything,” wrote Carnegie Mellon linguistics professor Uju Anya on Twitter. “All for the sole purpose of giving 6 right wing justices an excuse to *preemptively* allow discrimination against LGBTQ people.”

Prior to the Supreme Court hearing the case, Colorado lawmakers stressed the importance of keeping the law intact to prevent discriminatory business practices from becoming commonplace.

“Once [a business decides to] open up [their] doors to the public, you have to serve everybody,” Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser said, per reporting from The New York Times. “You can’t turn people away based on who they are.”