Home » Supreme Court Sides with Business Owner in Clash Over Free Speech, LGBTQ+ Rights

Supreme Court Sides with Business Owner in Clash Over Free Speech, LGBTQ+ Rights

In a 6-3 decision, the justices held that compelling a business owner to create designs ‘speaking messages with which the designer disagrees’ violates the Constitution.

The Supreme Court sided with a Colorado business owner on Friday in a case at the intersection of LGBTQ+ protections and free speech – a debate that has reared its head as some merchants have opposed providing services to same-sex couples because it violates their beliefs.

In a 6-3 decision, the high court held the First Amendment prohibits Colorado from compelling a website designer to create designs “speaking messages with which the designer disagrees.” The court’s liberal justices dissented.

The case, 303 Creative v. Elenis, challenges a state rule that prohibits business owners from discriminating against LGBTQ+ customers, as the designer sought to expand her business to offer wedding websites – but not for same-sex couples.

“The First Amendment envisions the United States as a rich and complex place where all persons are free to think and speak as they wish, not as the government demands,” Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote for the majority in his opinion, adding that, with the rule, “Colorado seeks to deny that promise.”

Justice Sonia Sotomayor authored the dissent for the liberal justices, writing that the ruling marks “a sad day in American constitutional law and in the lives of LGBT people.”

“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,” Sotomayor wrote. “And not just at the Court. Around the country, there has been a backlash to the movement for liberty and equality for gender and sexual minorities. New forms of inclusion have been met with reactionary exclusion. This is heartbreaking.”

The ruling comes after the high court considered a similar question in 2018, when a Colorado baker refused service to a same-sex couple based on his religious beliefs. The court, which has since become more conservative, ruled narrowly in the baker’s favor.

Legal observers have argued that the ruling could have a wide-reaching impact on religious rights more broadly, though the justices did not consider the religious question directly. Reports have also pointed to differing accounts about the patron of the business, throwing the impetus for the case into question.

The ruling appears to be somewhat in line with public opinion. According to a recent survey from the Pew Research Center, a majority of Americans, at 60%, say business owners should be able to refuse to provide services if doing so would suggest support for LGBTQ+ issues to which they have “personal or religious objections.”

A widespread partisan gap exists on the issue, the survey says, with Republicans overwhelmingly supporting business owners’ ability to refuse services, while Democrats say business owners should have to provide the services.

More broadly, the percentage of Americans who say same-sex relations are morally acceptable has declined in the last year to 64%, according to a recent Gallup poll, returning to 2019 levels from a record high of 71% last year.

The ruling comes as same-sex marriage protections appeared to be under threat at the high court, after the the justices voted to overturn the nearly 50-year precedent established in Roe v. Wade, and Justice Clarence Thomas suggested an openness to reconsidering similar landmark cases. But Congress approved a bill late last year to codify federal protections for same-sex and interracial marriage in advance of any moves from the high court, which Biden signed into law.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court, with a conservative supermajority, has handed down a number of rulings that have surprised court watchers this term, often ruling in favor of liberal causes – especially related to voting rights. But a major affirmative action ruling on Thursday, and another eviscerating President Joe Biden’s student debt relief plan on Friday, dealt major blows to progressives.

President Joe Biden criticized the ruling on Friday, calling it a “disappointing decision” that undermines the “basic truth” that in the U.S., “no person should face discrimination simply because of who they are or who they love.”

“While the Court’s decision only addresses expressive original designs, I’m deeply concerned that the decision could invite more discrimination against LGBTQI+ Americans,” Biden said in a statement. “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.”

Source : usnews

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