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Court Hears Challenge to Law Forcing Businesses To Provide Services for Gay Weddings

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A Colorado web designer should not have to create wedding websites for same-sex couples because it would amount to forced speech that violates her religious beliefs, a lawyer told an appeals court Monday.

Kristen Waggoner, a lawyer for Alliance Defending Freedom, told a three-judge panel of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver that the issue for designer Lorie Smith, who is a Christian, is the message and not the customer.

“No one should be forced to express a message that violates their convictions,” Waggoner said during the hearing.

She is trying to revive a lawsuit challenging the state’s anti-discrimination law, which her group also targeted on behalf of Colorado baker Jack Phillips in a case decided in 2018 by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The high court decided the Colorado Civil Rights Commission had acted with anti-religious bias against Phillips after he refused to bake a cake for two men who were getting married.

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But it did not rule on the larger issue of whether a business can invoke religious objections to refuse service to LGBT people.

On Monday, Chief Judge Timothy Tymkovich asked what Smith would do if she was approached by a straight wedding planner asking her to create four heterosexual wedding sites and one for a same-sex wedding. Waggoner said Smith would not take that job.

Colorado Solicitor General Eric Olson said her argument would mean she would refuse to create a website for a hypothetical same-sex couple but agree to make the same one for a heterosexual couple.

He said that would be discrimination under Colorado’s Anti-Discrimination Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

Should businesses be forced to provide services for same-sex weddings?

In the case of Phillips, the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, Olson said the Supreme Court could not agree on whether cakes are a form of expression.

However, a divided three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last year ruled in favor of two Christian filmmakers who said they should not have to make videos celebrating same-sex marriage under Minnesota’s anti-discrimination law because the videos are a form of speech protected by the First Amendment.


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