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‘Discrimination is wrong’: Supreme Court ruling denounced as setback for gay rights

People react outside of the Supreme Court Friday, June 30, 2023, in Washington, after the Supreme Court's conservative majority ruled that a Christian graphic artist who wants to design wedding websites can refuse to work with same-sex couples. The court ruled 6-3 for designer Lorie Smith despite a Colorado law that bars discrimination based on sexual orientation, race, gender and other characteristics. Smith had argued that the law violates her free speech rights. (AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib)Mariam Zuhaib/Associated Press

A Supreme Court ruling Friday that said a graphic artist could refuse to create wedding websites for same-sex couples was hailed by some as a victory for free speech and denounced by others as a troubling setback for gay rights.

Voting along ideological lines, the court ruled 6-3 in favor of a Colorado web designer who said she had a First Amendment right to refuse services for same-sex marriages, despite a state law barring discrimination against gay people.

Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, who wrote the majority opinion for the court, said that “the opportunity to think for ourselves and to express those thoughts freely is among our most cherished liberties and part of what keeps our Republic strong.”


In a blistering dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor said, “Today, the Court, for the first time in its history, grants a business open to the public a constitutional right to refuse to serve members of a protected class.”

US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, the first openly gay Cabinet member confirmed by Congress, criticized the ruling, saying “the Constitution is no license for a business to discriminate.”

“Discrimination is wrong,” he wrote on Twitter. “Today’s ruling will move America backward.”

Governor Maura Healey, the first openly gay governor of Massachusetts, said in a statement, that the decision was “deeply disappointing and yet another example of the Supreme Court’s callous disregard for the wellbeing of the very communities that need protecting.”

Kelley Robinson, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said the high court’s ruling was “a dangerous step backward, giving some businesses the power to discriminate against people simply because of who we are.”

“Our nation has been on a path of progress — deciding over the course of many decades that businesses should be open regardless of race, disability or religion. Many states have expanded this promise to include sex, sexual orientation and gender identity — this is a deeply troubling crack in our progress and should be alarming to us all,” she said. “People deserve to have commercial spaces that are safe and welcoming.”


Darcy Hirsh, senior director of policy and advocacy at Interfaith Alliance, a progressive group, said “today’s ruling from the far-right Supreme Court majority is a radical reinterpretation of settled civil rights law, giving businesses a green light to discriminate against any person who looks, believes, or lives differently than they do under the guise of religious freedom.”

The Log Cabin Republicans, an organization that advocates for gay people within the party, said the decision represented a “win for anyone who believes, as LGBT conservatives do, in freedom of speech and religious expression, even when we may not agree with it.”

Former Vice President Mike Pence, an evangelical Christian and Republican presidential candidate, praised the court’s decision in a statement, The New York Times reported. “Religious freedom is the bedrock of our Constitution,” he said, “and today’s decision reminds us that we must elect leaders who will defend that right and appoint judges who support religious freedom.”

Kristen Waggoner, a lawyer who brought Colorado business owner Lorie Smith’s case to the high court, hailed the decision.

“The U.S. Supreme Court rightly reaffirmed that the government can’t force Americans to say things they don’t believe. The court reiterated that it’s unconstitutional for the state to eliminate from the public square ideas it dislikes, including the belief that marriage is the union of husband and wife,” she wrote. “Disagreement isn’t discrimination, and the government can’t mislabel speech as discrimination to censor it.”


Martin Finucane can be reached at martin.finucane@globe.com.