Is Supreme Court’s “Gay Wedding” Case Built on a Lie? Man at Center of the Story Says He’s Straight
Written by GRB on 01/07/2023
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.
Today the Supreme Court issues two more decisions, including one brought by a Colorado wedding website designer who wants to be allowed to refuse service to same-sex couples. Lorie Smith filed the lawsuit with help from the right-wing Alliance Defending Freedom as part of the group’s ongoing attacks on the rights of LGBTQIA people. Smith said a Colorado law that bars businesses from refusing to sell a product to gay couples is a violation of her right to free speech as someone who opposes same-sex marriage. But new reporting shows Smith never once made a wedding website, and a key document in the case may be fake.
For more, we’re joined by Melissa Gira Grant, staff writer at The New Republic. Her new piece is headlined “The Mysterious Case of the Fake Gay Marriage Website, the Real Straight Man, and the Supreme Court.”
OK, Melissa, lay it out for us. Tell us what you discovered about the case the Supreme Court is ruling on today.
MELISSA GIRA GRANT: [inaudible] weird story, just to start there. So, in 2016, this website designer named Lorie Smith, whose business is called 303 Creative, she believed that a Colorado anti-discrimination ordinance that protects people from discrimination — among other things, from discrimination based on sexual orientation — she believed that that precluded her from entering into the wedding website business. Now, she has never created a wedding website for anybody, and including a same-sex couple.
So, in the course of making this argument, she claimed two things: one, that this law meant that she couldn’t post an announcement on her website saying that she wouldn’t make these websites for any couple that wasn’t in a biblical marriage that she approved of, and, additionally, in a later filing in the original case in 2016, she claimed that an actual same-sex couple sought to have her build a website for them, that an inquiry — it doesn’t seem that it was a legitimate inquiry, but it remained in the case. It came up in the district court ruling that ruled against her. It came up in their appeal. It’s even been included in filings to the Supreme Court and was referenced by her attorneys, Alliance Defending Freedom, who are a Christian nationalist law project. They said, “Hey, she’s had an actual inquiry, so this is a case that, you know, has some relevance.”
But before this inquiry became a subject of debate — it hadn’t really been reported out until I was able to reach the person who allegedly made the inquiry — they were making other arguments, as well.
AMY GOODMAN: And I want to point out, this is unbelievable. It’s like seven years later, right, Melissa? I mean —
MELISSA GIRA GRANT: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: — this case was brought in 2016. You’re a general reporter, and you just decide to look at the documents of this case the Supreme Court is now weighing. What —
MELISSA GIRA GRANT: Yeah, and I’m just sort of like shrugging and shifting in my seat, because, like, yes, I’ve covered the Supreme Court. I’ve covered cases that I spent months of my life on. This is one that came up in the course of reporting on anti-LGBTQ issues, which is mostly what I do. And, you know, I just saw this phone number in a filing, and I thought, “Well, let’s call this guy.” Right? “Let’s see if this is a real inquiry.” And, you know, again, like, he is not central to the case —
AMY GOODMAN: Wait, you called the guy who supposedly, according to the documents, is the guy who asked her to make a website for his gay wedding. But there was a name —
MELISSA GIRA GRANT: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: — there was a phone number and address, and you called the man, in Colorado.
MELISSA GIRA GRANT: Yeah. Well, he’s not in Colorado. I learned that right away. You know, it is his real — a real person’s name. It is a real person’s phone number. It is a real person’s email address. It is a real person’s website. But when I called that real person — and it wasn’t hard to reach him — he was happy to talk to me. He’s a very reasonable, nice guy, who had no idea that his information was in this case, and he had never heard about it from another reporter. No one had ever called him to check this inquiry out, which would suggest also that the attorneys in this case did not reach out to him to verify this. It suggests that, you know, once it made it to the Supreme Court, it was just sort of established as assumed fact that there was a genuine inquiry here. And again, just to underline, like, this is not the sole piece of evidence they’re bringing the case on, but the case itself was already about fake — like, maybe someday a gay couple would ask her to make a website for them.
AMY GOODMAN: But let’s be clear on this man —
MELISSA GIRA GRANT: It just — yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: He is married to a woman, has a child and had no plans —
MELISSA GIRA GRANT: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: — to have a gay marriage, and never, he said, submitted any request to this woman, who doesn’t make marriage websites, to make him a marriage — a gay marriage website?
MELISSA GIRA GRANT: No, not at all. And, you know, I looked into his background. It seems credible. I’ve been talking with him, on and off, since the first phone call I made to him on Tuesday. You know, he’s appalled by this. You know, he is progressive. He supports abortion rights. He was horrified to hear that the group that was bringing this was one of the groups that helped undo Roe v. Wade. He doesn’t want any part of the spotlight. And he had no idea that he had been pulled into this case, that somebody posing as him, in truth, pulled him into this case.
AMY GOODMAN: And is there any evidence the Supreme Court has found what you did on Tuesday?
MELISSA GIRA GRANT: I have no idea, honestly. You know, I have to give some credit to Justice Sotomayor, who, in oral argument, got into the nitty-gritty of, “Well, hold on. Hold on. Like, what websites are you forbidden from making? Like, let’s look into your actual brief.” And it was through that question that I found this inquiry in the brief. The inquiry didn’t come up in oral argument. It wasn’t a subject of back-and-forth in the filings ahead of oral argument. So, you know, I don’t know that this inquiry would have ever been decisive in what the Supreme Court decides, but, for me, it’s just — it’s so indicative of all of the questions and concerns people have had about this court and the legitimacy of this court.
AMY GOODMAN: And so, tell us what this group, the Alliance Defending Freedom, or ADF, is, that brought this case that’s now being weighed by the Supreme Court.
MELISSA GIRA GRANT: So, ADF started in the 1990s. They are really invested in this project that we would now call Christian nationalism. They believe that Christians have a right to decide the way that this country and its laws function. They are, you know, fundamentally opposed to the separation of church and state. And so, a lot of their cases kind of came from that place.
They’ve been very successful in getting cases before the Supreme Court. People may have heard of the Masterpiece Cakeshop case, which is kind of similar to this one. But at least in that case, there was an actual gay wedding, and there was an actual gay wedding cake that was at issue. Like, here, there is no wedding, there is no website.
It’s troubling that a group that’s pushing this agenda, attacking queer and trans people — you know, they’re behind the anti-trans laws that we’ve seen pop up by the dozens across the country over the last few years. If all they have to bring is, you know, fantasies of things that gay people someday may do, what does that say about their project? And what does it say about the court that they’re willing to entertain something that’s based on something so flimsy?
AMY GOODMAN: And fascinatingly, lower courts rejected it. Melissa Gira Grant, I want to thank you for being with us, staff writer at The New Republic. We’ll link to your piece, “The Mysterious Case of the Fake Gay Marriage Website, the Real Straight Man, and the Supreme Court.”