Case of Littleton-based web company that did not want to work with gay couples headed to U.S. Supreme Court

Owner seeks to overturn lower court’s ruling

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The owner of a Littleton-based web design company who said she would refuse to work with and promote gay couples will have her case heard by the Supreme Court of the United States, the court announced Feb. 22.

Lorie Smith, who owns 303 Creative LLC, said in a court petition she wants to expand her business to design wedding websites but that, due to her religious beliefs, does not want to design sites for gay couples. Smith is being represented by Alliance Defending Freedom, an anti-LGBTQ religious litigation group. 

Smith alleges Colorado violated her religious freedom through the state’s anti-discrimination act, which, according to the petition, “required her to create custom websites celebrating same-sex marriage and prohibits her statement — even though Colorado stipulates that she ‘work(s) with all people regardless of … sexual orientation.’”

In a May 2019 statement to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, which covers Colorado, Smith said, “I will not be able to create websites for same-sex marriages or any other marriage that is not between one man and one woman.”

She continued, “Doing that would compromise my Christian witness and tell a story about marriage that contradicts God's true story of marriage — the very story He is calling me to promote.”

That court ruled against Smith 2-1 in July 2021, saying that while her case raised First Amendment issues, it had a compelling interest in preventing sexual orientation discrimination. 

The ruling gained attention from Republican lawmakers Rep. Doug Lamborn, representative for Colorado's 5th Congressional District, and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who in October 2021 called for the Supreme Court to review that lower court’s decision. 

In their amicus brief, Lamborn and Cruz said the ruling allowed Colorado to wield its anti-discrimination law “as a sword to compel speech conflicting with an individual’s deeply held beliefs.”

Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser, a defendant in Smith’s case, said in a statement to Supreme Court justices there is no record that “anyone has asked the company to create a website for a same-sex wedding; that Colorado has threatened enforcement; or that any future wedding website would convey a message that would be attributed to the company.”

He said Colorado’s anti-discrimination law works to prohibit discrimination in commercial transactions. 

“Prohibiting companies from displaying what would amount to ‘Straight Couples Only’ messages is permissible,” Weiser wrote. 

Smith’s case echoes that of a Lakewood bakery owner who, in 2012, refused to make a wedding cake for Charlie Craig and David Mullins, citing his religious beliefs. Lamborn also supported the owner Jack Phillips with an amicus brief to the Supreme Court, which, in a narrow decision, sided with Phillips in 2018. 

The court is expected to hear Smith's case next fall during its October 2022 term, with a decision coming in the winter or spring of 2023.

Supreme Court, 303 creative LLC, LGBT, Lorie Smith, Phil Weiser

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