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Supreme Court ends Pride month with two major gay rights cases

by Tess Owen
Jun 26 2017, 11:41am

With LGBTQ Pride Month coming to a close, and exactly two years after its landmark ruling on gay marriage, the United States Supreme Court on Monday made two decisions that could impact the lives of same-sex couples.

Justices ruled against an Arkansas law that prevented same-sex parents from placing both of their names on their children’s birth certificates, but also said they would review a decision by a Colorado appeals court that found a cake shop discriminated against a gay couple when it refused to sell them a cake for their wedding.

Three justices dissented in the Arkansas case, Pavan v. Smith, which involved two married lesbian couples. Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito joined newly confirmed Justice Neil Gorsuch in his dissent.

The five justices who sided with the plaintiffs ruled that Arkansas’ law was in violation of the court’s 2015 decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, that made same-sex marriage law of the land.

Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito joined newly confirmed Justice Neil Gorsuch in his dissent. In what was his first case involving LGBTQ rights, Gorsuch argued that the decision in Obergefell was separate from the state’s own systems of birth certification.

“Nothing in Obergefell indicates that a birth registration regime based on biology, one no doubt with many analogues across the country and throughout history, offends the Constitution,” Gorsuch wrote.

Susan Sommer, director of Constitutional Litigation for Lambda Legal, disagrees. “[Obergefell] is crystal-clear,” she wrote in an amicus brief in support of the plaintiffs. “Marriage is marriage, and equal is equal.”

Douglas Hallward-Driemeir, one of the lawyers who asked the Supreme Court to hear the case, also helped win the landmark same-sex marriage case two years ago. He argued that, should justices rule in favor of Arkansas, states would be empowered to “once again relegate same-sex couples and their families to the stigma, injury, and inequality of ‘second-tier’ status.”

The ruling also empowers lesbian couples fighting similar statutes in other states that draw a line between husbands and same-sex spouses, such as in Indiana, Alabama, and North Carolina.

But while LGBTQ rights groups like Lambda cheered the court’s decision in Arkansas, they were disappointed that justices decided to review the decision in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission.

In that case, the Denver cake shop cited the owners’ religious beliefs when refusing to sell a wedding cake to a gay couple. The Colorado Civil Rights Division, responding to complaints filed by the couple David Mullins and Charlie Craig, determined that the cake shop was in violation of state law banning businesses from refusing services based on sexual orientation, a ruling later affirmed in August 2015 by the Colorado Court of Appeals.

The Colorado Supreme Court refused to hear the case, and so the owners of the cake shop took the case to the U.S. Supreme Court. LGBTQ advocates are concerned about the potential domino effect of a Supreme Court ruling in the shop’s favor, such as, for example, emboldening doctors to refuse to see expectant single mothers, or landlords to refuse to rent to same-sex couples.

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