Can American grocers refuse to serve gay customers in the name of their religious beliefs? The Supreme Court, firmly rooted in conservatism, opened this ultra-sensitive debate on Monday.
The US Supreme Court appeared to lean Monday in favor of a website creator who refuses to design one for gay marriage in the name of her freedom of speech and her Christian faith.
“For the first time in its history,” the court could authorize a company to “refuse to serve a customer based on racial, gender or religious criteria,” Justice Sonia Sotomayor noted with emotion.
Appeal to the law as a preventive measure
Along with his two progressive colleagues, the judge warned at the hearing against such a ruling, which they said would likely open the door to any form of discrimination.
But the court’s six conservative justices seemed more receptive to the arguments of Lorie Smith, the head of the Colorado company 303 creative.
“I want to create unique pages to celebrate the beauty of marriage between a man and a woman,” she said from the courthouse steps. But “Colorado is trying to force me to (…) promote ideas that are contrary to my beliefs.” Since 2008, this western American state has prohibited merchants from discriminating against their customers on the basis of their sexual orientation, subject to a fine.
Lorie Smith was not solicited by a gay couple nor prosecuted by the authorities, but she filed a complaint against the law as a preventive measure. After losing in an appeal, she approached the Supreme Court.
It is not the first time that the high court, which recognized the right to same-sex marriage in 2015, has been called upon to mediate between sexual minorities and Christian traders.
In 2018, she agreed with a pastry chef who refused to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple. But she had based her decision on additional grounds without adopting larger principles. Since then, Donald Trump has consolidated his conservative majority, and the court may deliver a broader ruling by June 30.
The White House urged her to exercise restraint. “There is no reason to change the current balance,” spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre said during a press briefing.
The Democratic administration believes that all Americans “have the right to equal access to society, which includes products and services” for sale in the country, she added.