Well, this is one way to end Pride Month.
In a 6-3 decision, the United States Supreme Court delivered a crushing blow to LGBTQ+ rights, ruling that a Christian web designer can legally discriminate against same-sex couples.
The case ends an eight-year legal battle between Lorie Smith, an evangelical web designer who believes that marriage should only be between a man and a woman, and the state of Colorado, which has anti-discrimination laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
It's worth noting that Smith was never asked by a gay couple to make a wedding website; she decided to challenge the law preemptively.
The Right to Discriminate
Lorie Smith is far from the only Christian wedding vendor who has challenged anti-discrimination laws on religious grounds.
However, while the Supreme Court has ruled on the issue before, this latest decision provides the most substantial First Amendment protections for religious business owners yet – setting a powerful precedent for future cases.
Writing for the majority, Justice Neil Gorsuch stated that Smith’s First Amendment right to express her faith should take precedence over anti-discrimination laws. “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,” read the statement.
The court, he wrote, has long believed that “the opportunity to think for ourselves and to express those thoughts freely is among our most cherished liberties and part of what keeps our Republic strong.”
Experts say the decision effectively gives the green light to wedding vendors to legally discriminate against same-sex couples.
The Dissenting View
In their dissent, the three justices who ruled against the web designer argued that the Court's ruling is blatantly discriminatory.
“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,” wrote Justice Sonia Sotomayor.
Additionally, they say that this clearly opens the door to further discrimination against other protected classes, and that the court’s decision “cannot be limited to discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.”
“How quickly we forget that opposition to interracial marriage was often because “‘Almighty God . . . did not intend for the races to mix,’” she wrote, quoting Loving v. Virginia.
Other critics pointed out that the legal challenge was all theoretical.
Contrary to what you might logically assume, Lorie Smith was not asked by any gay couple to build a website. Instead, she sought protection for if that scenario should occur (an important distinction, say critics of the ruling).
The Internet Reacts
Across the internet, reactions were unsurprisingly polarized.
Critics were quick to bash the decision, with some providing sarcastic commentary.
"I have a religious objection to bigots. Can I now deny them services, too?" quipped one Twitter user.
Others called it an example of "Christian Fascism" in action.
"Today's face of Christian Fascism: Lorie Smith the amateur web designer who decided her rights were being trampled by the mere possibility of having to design a website for a same-sex couple--even though no one had ever asked her to do that," another person wrote.
Meanwhile, many supporters cheered the decision as a victory for religious freedom. Among them was evangelical leader Franklin Graham:
So what happens next? It seems clear that the Supreme Court believes religious liberty takes priority over anti-discrimination laws – at least in certain instances.
In her dissent, Justice Sotomayor lamented that, theoretically, this ruling opens the door to more incidents of discrimination.
“A website designer could refuse to create a wedding website for an interracial couple, a stationer could refuse to sell a birth announcement for a disabled couple, and a large retail store could limit its portrait services to ‘traditional’ families,” she wrote.
But the decision has other massive implications beyond the scope of the case itself. If the Court is inclined to view religious freedom with greater sympathy than in the past, more expansions of religious freedom could be just around the bend.
Considering the clear direction that jurisprudence has been heading since the Court took on its current conservative super majority, some fear that marriage equality itself could be at legal risk.
What do you make of the ruling?
Should Christian wedding vendors have the right to turn away same-sex couples if they don’t believe in gay marriage? What implications might this have for the future?