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Supreme Court to decide if web designer can turn away LGBTQ couples

Case could redraw lines of First Amendment

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Supreme Court, gay news, Washington Blade
The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to take up a case on whether a web designer can turn away LGBTQ couples for wedding services. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

In a move that pits laws against LGBTQ discrimination against freedom of speech under the First Amendment, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed on Tuesday to take up a case of a Christian web designer in Colorado who seeks to refuse to work with same-sex couples despite a state law requiring her to open to LGBTQ customers.

An orders list issued Tuesday lists the petition in 303 Creative v. Elenis, brought by Lorie Smith, as among the cases for which the Supreme Court has granted a writ of certiorari, or agreed to review. Although the vote tally isn’t included in the order the move would be consistent with expectations for the conservative 6-3 court after former President Trump remade the judiciary with the addition of U.S. Associate Justices Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett.

The case bears similarities, and even originates from the same state, as a case brought by Jack Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, who refused to make a custom-made wedding cake for a same-sex couple based on religious objections despite requirements under Colorado law. The Supreme Court, however, issued a narrow decision based on the particular facts of that case that stopped short of a far-reaching carve-out for civil rights laws.

Alliance Defending Freedom, the anti-LGBTQ legal firm that also represented Phillips before the Supreme Court, is representing Smith in her case and in the petition seeking review argued Colorado law unfairly targets her for her religious beliefs.

“Lorie Smith faces real and imminent harm,” the petition says. “Five years after leaving her corporate position to open her own website-design business, she remains in limbo, unable to offer her design services for marriage celebrations—prohibited even from posting a statement about her marriage beliefs—and losing income.”

Smith filed the petition before the Supreme Court after the U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against her last year, concluding in the decision “grave harms caused when public accommodations discriminate on the basis of race, religion, sex or sexual orientation.” The court found Colorado non-discrimination law withstands scrutiny under judicial review and is a generally applicable law that isn’t constitutionally vague or overly broad.

No same-sex couple as of now has alleged 303 Creative Services has denied them services because the company has yet to engage in wedding-related services over concerns over Colorado law. Per the decision from the Tenth Circuit, Smith is seeking to post a statement on its website stating the company “will not be able to create websites for same-sex marriages or any other marriage that is not between one man and one woman.”

With the Supreme Court term ending in June, it’s unlikely the high court would be able to schedule briefs and oral arguments before the justices adjourn for the summer, when U.S. Associate Justice Stephen Breyer has announced he would step down. It would then fall to whomever Biden has named as a replacement for Breyer to weigh in as one of the nine justices on the court. Biden has said he would name a Black woman for the role and Ketanji Brown Jackson, J. Michelle Childs and Leondra Kruger are the names most mentioned. A White House announcement could come as soon as this week.

The case will be a test of the breadth of the First Amendment, to which the Supreme Court has previously given substantial deference under legal precedent. For example, the Supreme Court determined in 1977 the state of New Hampshire couldn’t require residents to display the state motto on their license plates over objections to the messages.

Although the petition to the Supreme Court presented the question of whether it should overturn the 1990 decision in Employment Decision v. Smith, which determined states are able to enforce general applicable laws over objections based on freedom of religion, the court only took up the case on freedom of speech claims. It’s unlikely to address Smith.

Jennifer Pizer, senior counsel for the LGBTQ group Lambda Legal, said in a statement the Supreme Court should use the opportunity to deliver a ruling upholding the principles of non-discrimination laws and “reaffirm and apply longstanding constitutional precedent that our freedoms of religion and speech are not a license to discriminate when operating a business.”

“The constitutional protections for religious freedom and free speech were never intended as weapons of discrimination for those doing business with the general public,” Pizer said. “More than fifty years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court firmly condemned use of personal freedoms to excuse businesses’ discrimination. But the justices’ decision in Masterpiece Cakeshop lacked that clarity and invited discrimination. The Court can and should clear up that confusion by upholding the well-reasoned decision of the Tenth Circuit.”

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National

65% of Black Americans support Black LGBTQ rights: survey

Results show 40% have LGBTQ family member

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(Logo courtesy of the NBJC)

The National Black Justice Coalition, a D.C.-based LGBTQ advocacy organization, announced on June 19 that it commissioned what it believes to be a first-of-its-kind national survey of Black people in the United States in which 65 percent said they consider themselves “supporters of Black LGBTQ+ people and rights,” with 57 percent of the supporters saying they were “churchgoers.”

In a press release describing the findings of the survey, NBJC said it commissioned the research firm HIT Strategies to conduct the survey with support from five other national LGBTQ organizations – the Human Rights Campaign, the National LGBTQ Task Force, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, Family Equality, and GLSEN.

“One of the first surveys of its kind, explicitly sampling Black people (1,300 participants) on Black LGBTQ+ people and issues – including an oversampling of Black LGBTQ+ participants to provide a more representative view of this subgroup – it investigates the sentiments, stories, perceptions, and priorities around Black values and progressive policies, to better understand how they impact Black views on Black LGBTQ+ people,” the press release says.

It says the survey found, among other things, that 73 percent of Gen Z respondents, who in 2024 are between the ages of 12 and 27, “agree that the Black community should do more to support Black LGBTQ+ people.”

According to the press release, it also found that 40 percent of Black people in the survey reported having a family member who identifies as LGBTQ+ and 80 percent reported having “some proximity to gay, lesbian, bisexual, or queer people, but only 42 percent have some proximity to transgender or gender-expansive people.”

The survey includes these additional findings:

• 86% of Black people nationally report having a feeling of shared fate and connectivity with other Black people in the U.S., but this view doesn’t fully extend to the Black LGBTQ+ community. Around half — 51% — of Black people surveyed feel a shared fate with Black LGBTQ+ people.

• 34% reported the belief that Black LGBTQ+ people “lead with their sexual orientation or gender identity.” Those participants were “significantly less likely to support the Black LGBTQ+ community and most likely to report not feeling a shared fate with Black LGBTQ+ people.”

• 92% of Black people in the survey reported “concern about youth suicide after being shown statistics about the heightened rate among Black LGBTQ+ youth.” Those expressing this concern included 83% of self-reported opponents of LGBTQ+ rights.

• “Black people’s support for LGBTQ+ rights can be sorted into three major groups: 29% Active Accomplices, 25% Passive Allies (high potential to be moved), 35% Opponents. Among Opponents, ‘competing priorities’ and ‘religious beliefs’ are the two most significant barriers to supporting Black LGBTQ+ people and issues.”

• 10% of the survey participants identified as LGBTQ. Among those who identified as LGBTQ, 38% identified as bisexual, 33% identified as lesbian or gay, 28% identified as non-binary or gender non-conforming, and 6% identified as transgender.

• Also, among those who identified as LGBTQ, 89% think the Black community should do more to support Black LGBTQ+ people, 69% think Black LGBTQ+ people have fewer rights and freedoms than other Black people, 35% think non-Black LGBTQ+ people have fewer rights and freedom than other Black people, 54% “feel their vote has a lot of power,” 51% live in urban areas, and 75% rarely or never attend church.

Additional information about the survey from NBJC can be accessed at nbjc.org.

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U.S. Federal Courts

Club Q shooter sentenced to life in prison for federal hate crimes

Five people killed in 2022 mass shooting in Colo.

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Assistant U.S. Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. (Justice Department YouTube screenshot)

Anderson Lee Aldrich, 24, formerly of Colorado Springs, Colo., was sentenced to 55 concurrent life sentences to run consecutive to 190 years in prison after pleading guilty to 74 hate crimes and firearms charges related to the Nov. 19, 2022, mass shooting at Club Q, an LGBTQ establishment in Colorado Springs.  

According to the plea agreement, Aldrich admitted to murdering five people, injuring 19, and attempting to murder 26 more in a willful, deliberate, malicious, and premeditated attack at Club Q. According to the plea, Aldrich entered Club Q armed with a loaded, privately manufactured assault weapon, and began firing. Aldrich continued firing until subdued by patrons of the club. As part of the plea, Aldrich admitted that this attack was in part motivated because of the actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity of any person.

“Fueled by hate, the defendant targeted members of the LGBTQIA+ community at a place that represented belonging, safety, and acceptance — stealing five people from their loved ones, injuring 19 others, and striking fear across the country,” said Attorney General Merrick Garland. “Today’s sentencing makes clear that the Justice Department is committed to protecting the right of every person in this country to live free from the fear that they will be targeted by hate-fueled violence or discrimination based on who they are or who they love. I am grateful to every agent, prosecutor, and staff member across the Department — from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Colorado, to the Civil Rights Division, the ATF, and FBI — for their work on this case. The Justice Department will never stop working to defend the safety and civil rights of all people in our country.”

“The 2022 mass shooting at Club Q is one of the most violent crimes against the LGBTQIA+ community in history,” said FBI Director Christopher Wray. “The FBI and our partners have worked tirelessly towards this sentencing, but the true heroes are the patrons of the club who selflessly acted to subdue the defendant. This Pride Month and every month, the FBI stands with the survivors, victims, and families of homophobic violence and hate.”

“ATF will not rest until perpetrators like this defendant are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” said Steven Dettelbach, director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). “I hope today’s life sentence brings at least some peace to the victims and survivors of this senseless, horrific tragedy. That this sentence should come during Pride month reinforces how far we have left to go before all communities, including all LGBTQIA+ communities, are safe here. It also shows how far ATF and all our partners will go to ensure hatred does not win.”

“The defendant’s mass shooting and heinous targeting of Club Q is one of the most devastating assaults on the LGBTQIA+ community in our nation’s history. This sentence cannot reclaim the lives lost or undo the harms inflicted. But we hope that it provides the survivors, the victims’ families, and their communities a small measure of justice,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “Our message today should be loud and clear. No one should have to fear for their life or their safety because of their gender identity or sexual orientation. The Justice Department will vigorously investigate and prosecute those who perpetrate hate-fueled, bias-driven attacks.”

“Hate has no place in our country and no place in Colorado” said Acting U.S. Attorney Matt Kirsch for the District of Colorado. “I hope that today’s sentence demonstrates to the victims and those connected to this horrific event that we do not tolerate these heinous acts of violence.”

The FBI Denver Field Office, Colorado Springs Police Department, and ATF investigated the case.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Alison Connaughty and Bryan Fields for the District of Colorado and, Maura White of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division prosecuted the case.

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Federal Government

EXCLUSIVE: Robert Garcia urges US officials to protect LGBTQ people during Pride Month

Gay Calif. congressman sent letter to top authorities on June 12

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Participants of the Capital Pride Festival in D.C. on June 8, 2024. Gay U.S. Congressman Robert Garcia (D-Calif.) has urged U.S. officials to ensure LGBTQ people are safe during Pride Month. (Washington Blade photo by Emily Hanna)

U.S. Rep. Robert Garcia (D-Calif.) on June 12 sent a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, and Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Christopher Wray to work to ensure LGBTQ people during Pride events.

“Over the last several weeks, your respective agencies and departments have issued stark warnings, and travel advisories to the public over potential threats from foreign terrorist organizations (FTO), and their supporters during this year’s Pride Month,” said Garcia in his letter. “I understand that these steps have come after deeply concerning increases in anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric, calls for targeted violence, and foiled violent plots.”

The FBI on May 10 issued an advisory that warned of potential violence at Pride events and other LGBTQ-specific events. The State Department on May 17 — the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, and Transphobia — announced a similar warning.

“Ensuring that people can peacefully and safely celebrate Pride and the diversity of the LGBTQ+ community is of utmost importance,” wrote Garcia, a gay man who represents California’s 42nd Congressional District that includes Long Beach.

June 12 also marked eight years since a gunman killed 49 people inside the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla.

The massacre at the time was the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history. The gunman pledged his allegiance to the Islamic State, even though there is no evidence that suggests the extremist group ordered him to carry out the massacre. 

“This week marks the eight (sp) anniversary of the horrific Pulse nightclub Orlando shooting — during which the attacker deliberately and viciously targeted the LGBTQ+ community,” wrote Garcia in his letter. “It is important to put the recent escalation of extremist anti-LGBTQ+ propaganda and messaging in the context the Pulse nightclub shooter who was influenced by these same forces of extremism.”

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