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December 05, 2022 10:40 AM UTC

Bigoted Web Designer Literally Nobody's Victim

  • by: Colorado Pols
Lorie Smith, who is just petrified that she might be asked to make a gay website someday.

AP reports via the Colorado Sun on a local case being heard by the U.S. Supreme Court today, a Highlands Ranch woman who believes her rights are being violated by Colorado law preventing her from posting publicly that she won’t make websites for LGBT couples:

The Supreme Court is hearing the case Monday of a Christian graphic artist who objects to designing wedding websites for gay couples, a dispute that’s the latest clash of religion and gay rights to land at the highest court.

The designer and her supporters say that ruling against her would force artists — from painters and photographers to writers and musicians — to do work that is against their faith. Her opponents, meanwhile, say that if she wins, a range of businesses will be able to discriminate, refusing to serve Black customers, Jewish or Muslim people, interracial or interfaith couples or immigrants, among others.

Most readers are familiar with the earlier case of cake baker Jack Phillips, who refused to produce a wedding cake for a gay couple leading to a discrimination complaint under Colorado law that was tossed at the U.S. Supreme Court in a narrow ruling that did not address the underlying question in the case of whether a cake bakery is public accommodation or artistry. As we discussed back in February and Westword’s Michael Roberts reported again today, web designer Lorie Smith’s case is quite a bit different:

The ADF characterizes it as a “pre-enforcement challenge” against the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act (CADA), which “prohibits creative professionals from expressing any views about marriage that could indicate someone is ‘unwelcome, objectionable, unacceptable, or undesirable’ because of their sexual orientation or that suggests that the designer won’t create particular expressive works because of those beliefs.” The ADF claims that CADA prevents Smith from explaining online that she won’t “create websites and graphics celebrating same-sex weddings” because they “violate her conscience. Lorie’s faith teaches her that marriage is between one man and one woman.”

…The defendants in the case, including Colorado Civil Rights Commission head Aubrey Elenis and its other members, as well as Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser, were granted summary judgment in September 2019, largely because the case was hypothetical: Smith filed suit before posting any statement, and no state body had punished her. The unstated subtext: The ADF wanted to pick a fight, and the court wasn’t interested in participating.

Unlike the Phillips case in which a party was actually denied services, Lorie Smith’s complaint is not due to anyone actually requesting she make an LGBT wedding website. A look at Smith’s client portfolio page shows Smith has created a range of modest websites for small businesses and local Republican candidates like Reps. Kevin Wan Winkle and Kim Ransom. At the going rate for website development, there doesn’t appear to be enough work in this portfolio to suggest Smith is making a full-time living on web design.

And that’s when it hits you: Lorie Smith is serving as the vehicle for the Alliance for Defending Freedom’s “pre-enforcement challenge” to Colorado discrimination law at least in part for personal financial gain. Smith’s religious principles have not been violated, because no one ever asked her to do the thing she claims would violate them. This whole case boils down to Smith wanting to display a disclaimer on her website that she won’t make wedding sites for LGBT couples, presumably so she is never faced with the trauma of discriminating to an LGBT couple’s face.

The realization that Smith is willfully participating in a contrived legal assault on Colorado’s anti-discrimination law instead of responding to any actual dilemma confronting her small business makes it much more difficult to sympathize with her, and invites hard questions about Smith’s real motivations. ADF could have waited for an actual case to emerge, but instead they found an unscrupulous small business willing to play a hypothetical victim. The reward, or a least a very lucrative perk, is more free advertising than Lorie Smith’s website business was ever worth.

Will the 6-3 conservative-skewed Supreme Court care about the ulterior motives at work? Probably not.

But we can’t stand by and just watch this flim-flam unfold without pointing out the obvious.


9 thoughts on “Bigoted Web Designer Literally Nobody’s Victim

  1. Smith is willfully participating in a contrived legal assault on Colorado’s anti-discrimination law instead of responding to any actual dilemma confronting her small business . . .

    That is undeniably true. Generally speaking, I don't have a problem with manufactured litigation. After all, some of the most iconic civil rights cases in U.S. history were cooked up in law firm conference rooms. However, this turd of a case ain't exactly Gideon v. Wainwright.

    1. But it's the bread and butter for the ADF, a christian-nationalist group of fascists masquerading as a christian legal advocacy group.  Sadly, with SCOTUS elevating the Free Exercise clause above the Establishment Clause and pretty much every other constitutional provision, she's likely to win.  One hopes a skilled hacker renders her business useless

  2. The case treads a very shaky and narrow line between anti-discrimination and freedom of speech.

    I could support her if she had a non-service policy that "discriminates" against everybody. A good example is: "no shoes, no shirt, no service."

    In her case, it clearly is a form of bigotry and one that should not be allowed, altho the SCOTUS will probably disagree with me.

  3. These people are deplorable and reprehensible, but they've got the votes on SCOTUS, so we need to look at the next step.

    As a gay man who has been involved in LGBT rights for decades now, I think we need to hit these people where it hurts – in their wallets.

    If they don't want to make a cake or a website or a floral arrangement for LGBT community members, that may be their right – once SCOTUS issues its decision – but what happens if the friends and family members of LGBT community members boycott these business establishments. 

    My prediction:  for the most part, their so-called artistic integrity will yield to their greed for the almighty dollar.

    1. Consumers can also hasten accountability for these bigots by leaving negative reviews on Yelp, NextDoor, etc. 

      Example: Q: What's a great cake shop in my neighborhood? A: Anywhere except Masterpiece CakeShop, and here's why. 

  4. In my mind (and I am gay BTW) the legal issue comes down to “what is public accommodation?”  I suspect the court will rule it does not include things like cake decorating or website design.

    The bakery did not bar gay people from shopping there, it only said it would not make wedding cakes for same-sex weddings. They do other things besides wedding cakes which I am sure they will be happy to take gay-bucks for.

    The web-designer is drawing her line at creating gay-centric content, but I bet she would have no trouble taking my money if I wanted her to redesign a website for my publishing business (which is generally all genre, although I do have a few LGBT titles as well) [shameless plug: if any one is curious].

    So I suspect the court will rule that these people choosing select services they will not provide would fall under a business person’s right to refuse business as they see fit. I don’t see it as any different than me choosing to not accept a book for publication because I find the content offensive. Of course, in my own defense, I would say that for me to turn down a book, the offensiveness would have to be directly tied to its likelihood of not being financially viable. I will, do, and have published books I found unpleasant for one reason or another, yet if they have a market …

  5. worth a mention as "obvious" — Justice AC Barrett has been a paid lecturer MULTIPLE times for the ADF. 

    But Justices get to choose if there is a conflict of interest worthy of recusal.  And don't have to explain what their connection might be or their decision to NOT recuse.

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