Supreme Court takes up clash over Colorado law’s protection for same-sex weddings


A person walks down the sidewalk near the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C., February 16, 2022.

Jon Cherry | Reuters

The Supreme Court on Tuesday agreed to hear a Christian website designer’s appeal challenging a Colorado law that bars businesses from refusing to serve customers based on their sexual orientation.

The court said in a list of orders that it will hear arguments about whether “a law to compel an artist to speak or stay silent violates the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment.”

The graphic artist, Lorie Smith, says she wants to expand her business into creating wedding websites “promoting her understanding of marriage” and post a statement explaining why she will refuse to “promote messages contrary to her faith, such as messages that condone violence or promote sexual immorality, abortion, or same-sex marriage.”

But Smith cannot do so because the state law “considers it illegal,” according to her request for the Supreme Court to take up the case. Colorado state officials say the statute, the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act, is constitutional.

Smith’s company, 303 Creative, “filed its complaint despite failing to identify any investigation into the Company’s conduct or any complaint filed against the Company,” the officials said.

The law had been upheld by two lower courts.

The court declined to take up Smith’s request for it to consider overturning decades-old precedent protecting laws that incidentally burden religious practice if they are neutral and generally applicable.

The justices are set to hear oral arguments and issue a ruling on the case in the court’s next term, which begins in October.

If the Biden administration has its way, the slate of justices hearing the case will include the high court’s first Black woman, whom President Joe Biden has vowed to nominate to succeed retiring Justice Stephen Breyer.

The court, which bears a 6-3 conservative majority after the appointment of three of former President Donald Trump’s nominees, has waded into divisive cultural issues including abortion, guns and religion.

The high court’s decision to hear the case comes more than seven years after the landmark ruling Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized gay marriage.

In 2018, the court ruled 7-2 in favor of a Colorado bakery, Masterpiece Cakeshop, which had declined to design a wedding cake for a same-sex couple. The court said at the time that Colorado’s civil rights division showed “clear and impermissible hostility” toward the religious beliefs underpinning the baker’s decision.