Supporters of gay rights in Long Beach and beyond are lambasting a U.S. Supreme Court ruling, announced Friday, that a Colorado graphic designer should not have to make wedding websites for gay couples, in defiance of the state’s anti-discrimination law.
The plaintiff and the court’s conservative majority framed the decision as one about free speech, arguing that under the First Amendment, an artist in a creative enterprise such as web design cannot be compelled to express speech they disagree with.
In this case, the graphic designer has said that her Christian beliefs prevent her from using her services in support of gay marriage.
Rep. Robert Garcia, the former mayor of Long Beach, said in a phone interview the decision is “pretty crushing. This is a really damaging attack and a rollback of protections for LBGTQ+ people.”
Garcia was Long Beach’s first openly gay mayor. He called the court’s decision “second-class citizenship treatment for the gay community” and added, “We should not be living in a country where we’re allowing businesses to discriminate against people, and certainly not gay people.”
The extremist Supreme Court has ruled that LGBTQ+ people are now second class citizens. This is a dark day for our community and our country. Let’s be crystal clear, we are under attack and we need to fight back.— Congressman Robert Garcia (@RepRobertGarcia) June 30, 2023
Carlos Torres, executive director of the LGBTQ Center Long Beach, echoed Garcia’s sentiment that the decision was “disheartening, but not surprising.”
“This conservative court has issued a number of rulings in its recent history that continue to undermine our rights, our civil rights as citizens of this country, and have done away with one of its core values, … making sure the laws of this country protect everyone and not just some people,” Torres said.
For some, the ruling raises concerns about legally sanctioned discrimination, but Cal State Long Beach Assistant Professor Kathryn Perkins said people should understand “this is a limited decision. It is limited only to content creators that are making expressive, tailored content,” such as wedding websites.
It doesn’t appear Friday’s ruling could be stretched to apply to other kinds of businesses, or to public officials who grant marriage licenses, for example, she said.
Perkins teaches constitutional law and will be using this case in her fall courses, she said.
But while the decision itself was narrow, it could open the door to cases that would test the legality of other kinds of discrimination based on “sincerely held beliefs,” she said.
Perkins does see a silver lining in that both Justice Neil Gorsuch, who wrote the majority opinion, and Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who authored a forceful dissent, treated LGBTQ rights seriously and framed them as “within the canon of civil rights protection,” which would have been unheard of 15 or 20 years ago, she said.
Garcia will be urging his congressional colleagues to pass the Equality Act, a bill he cosponsored that would add protections against discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation and gender identity to federal civil rights law. He also has been a vocal supporter of expanding the Supreme Court, he said.
Torres said people who are frustrated by the decision can take action: register to vote and show up on election day, share their views with elected officials and hold them accountable, and support organizations that champion the LGBTQ community.
“We want people to know that they’re not alone,” he said. “We’re not going anywhere and we will continue to fight, and we will continue to advocate, and we will continue to march, and we will continue to create spaces that are affirming and welcoming.”