Christian graphic designer loses five-year battle to discriminate against same-sex couples

Lorie Smith wedding website Colorado discrimination

A US appeals court has ruled against wedding website designer Lorie Smith in her bid to discriminate against same-sex couples.

Smith, a graphic designer who creates custom wedding websites in Colorado, had tried to challenge the state’s anti-discrimination law because she didn’t want to work with same-sex couples.

In September 2016 she filed a lawsuit, backed by anti-gay evangelical group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), insisting she would not feel comfortable serving gay clients due to her religious beliefs, although documents did not state that she had ever been asked to.

The lawsuit was thrown out, after which she took her case to the Court of Appeals, where it was also denied. ADF then took the case back to the appeals court.

On Monday (26 July), a three-judge panel at the 10th US Circuit Court of Appeals denied Smith’s request to overturn the ruling, insisting that it had a responsibility to protect the “dignity interests” of marginalised groups.

Lorie Smith’s refusal to serve same-sex couples would ‘damage society’ court ruled

In its ruling, the court concluded that while a diversity of faiths “enriches” society, “a faith that enriches society in one way might also damage society in other, particularly when that faith would exclude others from unique goods or services”.

It added: “In short, appellants’ free speech and free exercise rights are, of course, compelling. But so too is Colorado’s interest in protecting its citizens from the harms of discrimination.”

The anti-discrimination law upheld by the appeals court is the same one challenged by Colorado baker Jack Phillips of Masterpiece Cakeshop, who in 2018 won a narrow Supreme Court victory over his refusal to bake a cake for a same-sex couple.

Jennifer C Pizer is senior counsel at Lambda Legal mwhich submitted a friend-of-the-court brief in Lorie Smith’s case in support of Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act (CADA),

Pizer said: “This is a tremendous ruling that properly situates our cherished freedoms of speech and religion among the important rights guaranteed by the US Constitution, while also understanding that the state of Colorado has a compelling interest and responsibility to end discrimination in the commercial sphere.

“As we explained in our friend-of-the-court brief to the US Supreme Court in Masterpiece Cakeshop v Colorado Civil Rights Commission, this really isn’t about cake or websites or flowers.

“It’s about protecting LGBT+ people and their families from being subjected to slammed doors, service refusals, and public humiliation in countless places – from fertility clinics to funeral homes, and everywhere in between.”