Web Designer Against Gay Marriage Takes Free Speech Fight to Supreme Court

The Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case of a Colorado web designer who said that as she plans to expand her business to include wedding websites, a Colorado anti-discrimination law violates her freedom of speech and religious rights to refuse her services to same-sex couples.

Lorie Smith said she also wants to put a message about her beliefs on her website. The case comes to the Supreme Court after a lower court dismissed Smith's case, and the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 against her attempt to reverse the lower court's decision, according to the Associated Press.

The case will be heard in the fall, and the Court said it will only decide whether the law violates Smith's free speech rights.

Smith said she planned to appeal the 10th Circuit Court's decision after it was made last July, Newsweek previously reported. In its ruling, the Circuit Court said Colorado had a compelling interest in using the anti-discrimination law to protect the "dignity interests" of marginalized groups like those in the LGBTQ community.

The Court heard a similar case over the same law in 2018, when Colorado baker Jack Phillips refused to make a cake for a same-sex couple and the Court ruled that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission acted with "anti-religious bias" against Phillips, but did not provide a larger opinion on whether a business can refuse services to LGBTQ customers using religion as the primary reason.

"The government doesn't have the power to silence or compel creative expression under the threat of punishment. It's shocking that the 10th Circuit would permit Colorado to punish artists whose speech isn't in line with state-approved ideology," Kristen Waggoner, general counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom, the legal group representing Smith, said in a statement.

"Colorado has weaponized its law to silence speech it disagrees with, to compel speech it approves of, and to punish anyone who dares to dissent," Waggoner continued. "Colorado's law—and others like it—are a clear and present danger to every American's constitutionally protected freedoms and the very existence of a diverse and free nation."

Smith initiated her challenge of the law before she began offering the wedding website design services, and had not yet refused the services to any same-sex couples or posted the message on her website explaining why she would refuse service to certain couples.

"Companies cannot turn away LGBT customers just because of who they are," Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser told the AP. "We will vigorously defend Colorado's laws, which protect all Coloradans by preventing discrimination and upholding free speech."

Newsweek has reached out to Colorado One, a Colorado advocacy group for LGBTQ equality, for comment on the Court's announcement.

Update 2/22/22 12:35 p.m. EST: This story has been updated with additional context and information, and comment from Smith's attorney and Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser.

Colorado Supreme Court Gay Marriage Legal Decisions
The Supreme Court said Tuesday it would hear the case of a Colorado woman who said the state's anti-discrimination law violates her right to refuse wedding website design services to same-sex couples. Above, The Guardian or Authority of Law, created by sculptor James Earle Fraser, rests on the side of the U.S. Supreme Court on September 28, 2020, in Washington, D.C. Al Drago/Getty Images