Photographers opposed to same-sex weddings cite Supreme Court web designer win for relief

Photographers opposed to same-sex weddings cite Supreme Court web designer win for relief

The Supreme Court ‘s ruling that allowed a Christian website designer to decline requests to create same-sex wedding websites could have sweeping implications in other legal disputes involving creative occupations, according to attorneys who argued in the case of 303 Creative v. Elenis .

Attorneys for the conservative legal firm Alliance Defending Freedom asked two federal appeals courts on Monday to affirm the “First Amendment rights of two photographers and bloggers” they represent in respective cases, according to a press release. The photographers don’t want to photograph same-sex weddings but fear retaliation from state and local nondiscrimination laws.


“Free speech is for everyone. As the Supreme Court recently reaffirmed in 303 Creative, the government can’t force Americans to say things they don’t believe,” ADF Legal Counsel Bryan Neihart wrote in a statement.

Chelsey Nelson, a Christian photographer who specializes in photographing weddings, is asking the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit to affirm a lower court order that blocked a law in Louisville, Kentucky, from forcing her to create messages that contradict her sincere beliefs. The case is known as Chelsey Nelson Photography v. Louisville-Jefferson County Metro Government.

U.S. District Court Judge Benjamin J. Beaton, an appointee of former President Donald Trump, wrote in a 44-page opinion last August siding with Nelson’s request, writing that the “government may not force singers or writers or photographers to articulate messages they don’t support.”

The case was then appealed up to the 6th Circuit, and ADF attorneys filed a supplemental brief on Thursday citing the recent decision in 303 Creative, which involved a similar dispute surrounding web designer Lorie Smith and her fears that Colorado’s anti-discrimination law would subject her to fines if she denied a same-sex couple’s request for a wedding website.

Lorie Smith, Kristen Waggoner

Lawyer Kristen Waggoner of the Alliance Defending Freedom, center, accompanied by by her client, Lorie Smith, a Christian graphic artist and website designer in Colorado, right in pink coat, speaks outside the Supreme Court in Washington, Monday, Dec. 5, 2022.

(Andrew Harnik/AP)

Through a 6-3 opinion authored by Justice Neil Gorsuch on June 30, the Republican-appointed majority on the Supreme Court held that “the First Amendment prohibits Colorado from forcing the website designer to create expressive designs speaking messages with which the designer disagrees.”

A supplemental brief was also submitted on Friday in a similar case known as Emilee Carpenter Photography v. James , citing the victory for Smith.

“That ruling makes clear that nondiscrimination laws like Louisville’s can remain firmly in place, but the government cannot misuse those laws to compel speech. The U.S. Constitution ensures Lorie Smith, Chelsey Nelson, Emilee Carpenter — and indeed, every American — can speak consistent with her convictions,” Neihart said.


(Photo courtesy of Alliance Defending Freedom)

Carpenter’s lawyers want the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit to reverse a federal district court’s ruling that allowed the state of New York and local district attorneys to require that she take photos and write blog posts that conflict with her sincere beliefs. Carpenter could face a $100,000 fine, a revoked business license, and up to a year in jail under New York’s laws, according to ADF.

A judge from the U.S. District Court for the Western District of New York ruled in December 2021 that the state has a “compelling interest” to ensure individual customers without regard to sexual orientation are granted equal access to publicly available goods, ensuring the “accommodation clause is narrowly tailored, as applied to Plaintiff, to serve that interest.”

Carpenter’s counsel argues that the decision in Smith’s case “leaves no doubt that Emilee Carpenter pled plausible free-speech and expressive-association claims. In fact, the decision proves that Emilee deserves injunctive relief for her free-speech claim now.”

Justice Sonia Sotomayor dissented from the majority’s ruling in 303 Creative late last month, writing that “for the first time in its history, the court grants a business open to the public a constitutional right to refuse to serve members of a protected class.”


And White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said at a June 30 press conference, “We are deeply disappointed in the Supreme Court’s decision today in 303 Creative, which takes our nation backward in the fight for equality.”

ADF contends that Smith, Nelson, and Carpenter are all willing to serve clients who identify as part of the LGBT community but make determinations on whether they can work on a project based on the message requested and not the person making the request.