When the U.S. Supreme Court issued its historic ruling requiring that all states recognize same-sex marriages, the majority opinion declared that those who disagreed on religious grounds must still have the right to continue advancing their views.
“Finally, it must be emphasized that religions, and those who adhere to religious doctrines, may continue to advocate with utmost, sincere conviction that, by divine precepts, same-sex marriage should not be condoned,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in Obergefell v. Hodges in 2015. “The First Amendment ensures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths, and to their own deep aspirations to continue the family structure they have long revered.”
President Joe Biden’s signing of the Respect for Marriage Act on December 13 represents a step toward honoring that pledge, and the Supreme Court may well take matters further, depending on how broadly it rules in 303 Creative LLC v. Elenis. That’s the appeal of a Colorado graphics designer who says that for religious reasons, she won’t design wedding websites for same-sex couples.
True respect for conscience has taken a beating in our charged partisan environment—few people seem willing to extend it to those they disagree with. The Colorado web designer, Lorie Smith, is part of what is now the minority of Americans who want marriage to be reserved only for the union of a man and woman. So she filed the case, chosen by the high court to examine the place where laws prohibiting discrimination in “public accommodations” cross paths with the First Amendment right to free speech. On her website, Smith explains that she tries to use her creative gifts to serve God. “Because of my faith...I am selective about the messages that I create or promote—while I will serve anyone I am always careful to avoid communicating ideas or messages, or promoting events, projects, services, or organizations, that are inconsistent with my religious beliefs.”
One unfortunate aspect of the court’s decision to pick this particular case is that Smith’s lawsuit was preemptive; there is no gay couple to tell the court their story of what it was like to be turned away from getting the wedding website they’d hoped for. There is no Jim Obergefell to say why he wanted Ohio to recognize his marriage to John Arthur, his partner for more than two decades, dying of ALS.