Last week, a journalist exposed an issue in a Christian web designer’s legal bid to not make wedding websites for same-sex couples: the one gay couple she claimed asked her to make them a wedding website doesn’t exist. Specifically, one of the two men doesn’t exist and the other is a straight man married to a woman for 15 years who had never heard about the case until just last month.
Now Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) – the anti-LGBTQ+ hate group that represented plaintiff Lorie Smith in 303 Creative LLC. v. Elenis – is demanding the record be set “straight” (their word) and people stop accusing them of making up the couple in question.
The longtime LGBTQ+ ally clarified his “ironic” statement.
In 2016, Smith filed her suit, which claimed that her free speech and free exercise of religion were being limited by Colorado’s anti-discrimination law. She wanted, she claimed, to make wedding websites professionally but not for same-sex couples because she “believes that God is calling her to promote and celebrate His design for marriage… between one man and one woman only.”
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She had never made a wedding website when she filed her suit and no same-sex couple had asked her to make them one. The state of Colorado brought that up to question her standing in the case and try to get it thrown out.
Then, in early 2017, her lawyers at ADF said that she in fact had received such a request from a man named Stewart, who wanted design work for his wedding with his fiance Mike. They printed out the request – received through Smith’s website shortly after she filed her lawsuit – which included his contact information. They submitted it to the court.
No one bothered to contact Stewart, he said, until last month when Melissa Gira Grant of The New Republic called him out and found out that he was straight, married to a woman, a web designer himself, lived in California, and had never heard of Smith or her case before. He was somewhat known in web design circles through conferences, podcasts, and social media.
“If somebody’s pulled my information, as some kind of supporting information or documentation, somebody’s falsified that,” he said. “I’m married; I have a child. I’m not really sure where that came from? But somebody’s using false information in a Supreme Court filing document.”
There’s no solid proof that Smith or ADF were the ones who falsified that request with Stewart’s contact information, but since they are the only people who would benefit from the existence of such a request, it didn’t take long for people on social media to connect the dots and make the insinuation.
ADF is now lashing out against its critics.
“This desperate attempt to malign ADF, our client, and a critical ruling affirming all Americans’ free speech blatantly distorts the facts of the case and the nature of pre-enforcement lawsuits,” said ADF’s Kristen Waggoner. “To say that Lorie Smith or ADF fabricated a request for a same-sex wedding website is a lie.”
ADF was particularly annoyed – despite winning the case last week – that Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser called their case “made-up.”
“Our position in this case has been there is no website development happening, there is no business operating,” he told The Hill. “This was a made-up case without the benefit of any real facts or customers. The Supreme Court in our view should never have decided this case or address the merits without any basis in reality.”
ADF says that Smith didn’t need to have received a request for a same-sex wedding website because her argument before the Court was that the mere existence of Colorado’s anti-discrimination law was enough to silence her speech.
But while it’s true that the Supreme Court’s decision didn’t hinge on Stewart’s request, ADF seemed to think that it was important enough to submit to the trial court. Moreover, after the trial court judge dismissed Stewart’s request since Smith and ADF didn’t prove that Stewart and Mike were a same-sex couple (women can be named Stewart or Mike), ADF included an argument about it in their appeal.
“According to Social Security Administration (SSA) data, only a nanoscopic number of women have been named Stewart or Mike since 1880. Lorie faces a 16 times greater chance of being struck by lightning than either name being female,” ADF argued, instead of just calling Stewart up and asking if he and Mike were men.
ADF also now says that anyone could have fabricated Stewart’s request for a website, saying “the more likely scenario” is that “‘Stewart’ or another activist did in fact submit the request.” While it’s possible that someone else sent in the request – or that Stewart made up an elaborate lie about being a straight web designer in California for no discernable reason – it’s unclear why ADF didn’t call Stewart up and confirm his identity when the trial judge suggested that either he or Mike could be a woman.
ADF said that LGBTQ+ people should be happy about the decision in 303 Creative LLC. v. Elenis, which said that creative professionals can refuse to follow anti-discrimination laws in certain cases.
“Everyone, including those who identify as LGBT, should be thrilled that the Supreme Court upheld free speech in 303 Creative,” Waggoner said. “This manufactured sideshow is a frantic attempt to delegitimize a historic Supreme Court decision, a client whom Colorado censored for seven years, and a court that upheld a foundational American principle.”