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Supreme Court to consider case pitting religious rights against LGBTQ discrimination

Mark Wilson
Getty Images

The U.S. Supreme Court is once again taking on the simmering conflict between laws banning discrimination against same-sex couples and religious adherents.

The court on Tuesday agreed to review a case brought by Lorie Smith, a prospective web designer who wants to start a wedding website business but has not done so because Colorado law bars discriminating against same-sex couples in public services, and she believes that providing her work for same-sex couples would conflict with God's will.

If this all sounds very familiar, that's because it is. In 2017, the court heard a very similar challenge to Colorado's anti-discrimination law from a baker who objected to creating cakes for same-sex weddings.

In one of his last opinions writing for the court's majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy drew a narrow line that emphasized the dignity of the individuals on both sides but chided the state's civil rights commissioners for comments disrespecting the baker's religious convictions.

Technically, the court's vote was 7-to-2, but in reality the justices were more deeply split, with Chief Justice John Roberts joining Kennedy's narrow opinion in full, the three other conservative justices basically siding with religious rights, and four liberal justices upholding anti-discrimination laws. Since then, the make-up of the court has changed dramatically, with Trump appointee Brett Kavanaugh replacing Justice Kennedy, and Amy Coney Barrett, also appointed by Trump, replacing Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg after Ginsburg's death in 2020.

Gay rights advocates have long worried that the new conservative supermajority on the court might well, in practice, take away some hard won LGBTQ rights, with its strong emphasis on religious rights. This time the court is unlikely to punt on the larger question it avoided in the baker's case: when religious beliefs collide with anti-discrimination laws, which side wins? Now the Supreme Court will decide.

Arguments in the case will be heard in the court's next term, which begins in the fall.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Nina Totenberg is NPR's award-winning legal affairs correspondent. Her reports air regularly on NPR's critically acclaimed newsmagazines All Things Considered, Morning Edition, and Weekend Edition.
Ryan Ellingson