U.S. Supreme Court Sides with a Business Owner Who Sought to Deny Service to Same-Sex Couples: What the Ruling Means for LGBTQ+ Georgians Going Forward

A groundbreaking new ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court has triggered substantial concern among members of the LGBTQ+ community. The court’s 6-3 decision says, for the first time, that the First Amendment’s right to free speech allows some business owners to refuse to serve some customers if taking those jobs would conflict with the owner’s beliefs. Despite this unfavorable ruling, LGBTQ+ people still have legal protections, including those protections guaranteed locally here in Atlanta and some surrounding cities. If a public accommodation rejected you because of your sexual orientation or gender identity, you may still have legal recourse, so it’s worth your while to discuss your situation with an experienced Atlanta sexual orientation/gender identity discrimination lawyer.

The case at issue involved a Colorado website designer who wanted to create wedding websites but desired to provide that service only to heterosexual couples as a result of her religious beliefs related to marriage.

This would have constituted illegal discrimination under the State of Colorado’s Anti-Discrimination Act. That law says business owners may not “publish, circulate, issue, display, post, or mail any… advertisement that indicates that… an individual’s patronage or presence at a place of public accommodation is unwelcome, objectionable, unacceptable, or undesirable because of… sexual orientation, gender identity, [or] gender expression.”

The Supreme Court said this was an unacceptable infringement on the business owner’s free speech rights. By forcing the designer to create websites for same-sex couples, the court reasoned, the state was forcing the designer to “create expressive designs speaking messages with which the designer” did not agree and, therefore, “compel speech [the designer] does not wish to provide.” That sort of state-compelled speech ran afoul of the First Amendment, according to the majority.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor expressed deep concern with the majority’s decision, stating that the high 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.”

Lower courts have issued similar rulings. Last summer in Kentucky, a federal judge sided with a wedding photographer who wished to provide her services only to heterosexual couples, ruling that the City of Louisville’s Fairness Ordinance violated the photographer’s free speech rights. The Kentucky photographer’s free speech claim mirrored the one the Colorado website designer used successfully.

Bans on LGBTQ+ Discrimination in Atlanta and Nearby Cities

Here in North Georgia, Atlanta has an ordinance that bans discrimination against LGBTQ+ people in public accommodations. Earlier this month, the City of Tucker adopted one, too.

Both ordinances have subsections explicitly stating that those cities shall not require a person or entity “to act in violation of the associational rights granted by the Constitution of the United States and the State of Georgia.” By contrast, neither the Colorado law nor the Louisville ordinance had similar provisions. However, as discussed above, the Colorado designer and the Louisville photographer won their court cases on free speech grounds, not free association claims.

Exactly how much negative impact today’s Supreme Court decision will have on the LGBTQ+ community remains to be seen. Still, if you were the target of illegal discrimination, you need to get in touch with a skilled legal professional. The knowledgeable Atlanta sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination attorneys at the law firm of Parks, Chesin & Walbert are here to give you the reliable answers and advice you need. Contact us through this website or at 404-873-8048 to schedule a consultation today to learn about the legal options you may have.

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