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The ‘fake’ gay marriage case in the middle of the Supreme Court’s latest threat to LGBT+ rights

How did a straight, married man get in the middle of the high-stakes case?

Alex Woodward
Friday 30 June 2023 19:01 BST
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Related video: Biden condemns ‘ugly’ and ‘hysterical’ threats to LGBT+ people

A Christian website designer in Colorado did not want to provide her services to same-sex couples, potentially running afoul of state law that prohibits public-facing businesses from discriminating against LGBT+ people.

The designer didn’t have any same-sex clients. She didn’t receive any requests from gay couples to work on their wedding websites. But in her legal challenge, supported by an influential right-wing legal group that backed a lawsuit ending Roe v Wade, she argued that Colorado’s law infringed on her First Amendment rights.

In its final day of its current term, the US Supreme Court’s conservative supermajority agreed, potentially endangering already vulnerable rights of LGBT+ Americans and state governments’ abilities to protect them.

But a crucial piece of evidence in the case appears to have been fabricated.

A man who is named throughout the case, and whose phone number and email address were attached in court filings, claims he has nothing to do with it.

In 2016, Lorie Smith claimed in filings that a man named “Stewart” contacted her website to help with his upcoming wedding to a person named “Mike”: “We are getting married early next year and would love some design work done for our invites, placenames etc. We might also stretch to a website.”

The New Republic found “Stewart”. He said he is straight, married to a woman, and never contacted Ms Smith.

His alleged request for services came within 24 hours after Ms Smith first filed her lawsuit in state court.

“If somebody’s pulled my information, as some kind of supporting information or documentation, somebody’s falsified that,” he explained to The New Republic. “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.”

It remains unclear, even after the Supreme Court’s decision, how and why he is involved. In a statement to The Independent, attorneys for Ms Smith dismissed his reaction and claimed that the service request was genuine. A spokesperson for Colorado’s attorney general pointed to earlier claims that there was no proof that it was.

Meanwhile, the statements “Stewart” claims to never have made, and arguments from attorneys who use his name and alleged statements, remain printed across several court documents.

Demonstrators who supported Lorie Smith’s case celebrate the US Supreme Court ruling in Washington DC on 30 June

In a motion filed by attorneys for Colorado in 2016 to dismiss the case, they pointed out that Ms Smith had never received any request for services and had no standing to sue. A response from the Alliance Defending Freedom, the conservative Christian group representing Ms Smith, asserted that it was not necessary to have received any such inquiry before challenging state law.

Months later, in February 2017, in an effort to bolster their challenge to state law, attorneys for the group said that Ms Smith received an inquiry, weeks before Colorado attorneys asked to dismiss the case.

“Notably, any claim that Lorie will never receive a request to create a custom website celebrating a same-sex ceremony is no longer legitimate because Lorie has received such a request,” according to the filing.

Later that year, following a court ruling in Colorado’s favour, the group mentioned “Stewart” and “Mike” in a press release.

In a December 2021 filing with the Supreme Court, attorneys for Colorado responded to the alleged request again, noting that the inquiry “was not a request for a website at all, but just a response to an online form asking about ‘invites’ and ‘place-names,’ with a statement that the person ‘might also stretch to a website.’”

The Alliance Defending Freedom fired back in a reply brief, once again mentioning a request that may not even exist: “Colorado’s claim – that a request from ‘Mike’ and ‘Stewart’ for a wedding website does not reflect a same-sex wedding request – blinks reality.”

Lorie Smith

The Independent asked representatives for the Alliance Defending Freedom how “Stewart” became involved with the case.

Senior counsel Kellie Fiedorek said The New Republic’s findings are a “last-minute attempt to malign Lorie [that] smacks of desperation to delegitimize her civil rights case and our judicial system.”

“It’s undisputed that Lorie received this request through her website. She doesn’t do background checks on incoming requests to determine if the person submitting it is genuine,” she added. “Whether Lorie received a legitimate request or whether someone lied to her is irrelevant. No one should have to wait to be punished by the government to challenge an unjust law.”

A spokesperson for the office of Colorado’s attorney general did not have a comment prior to the ruling but pointed The Independent to its brief with the Supreme Court noting that Ms Smith did not take “any steps to verify that a genuine prospective customer submitted the form.”

The Supreme Court’s decision is a blow to LGBT+ advocates who fear the case could open the door for rollbacks to discrimination protections, with Justice Sonia Sotomayor noting that the ruling comes in the middle of a wave of state laws targeting LGBT+ people.

“This case cannot be understood outside of the context in which it arises,” she wrote in her dissent. “In that context, the outcome is even more distressing. … In this pivotal moment, the Court had an opportunity to reaffirm its commitment to equality on behalf of all members of society, including LGBT people. It does not do so.”

A statement from Kelley Robinson, president of the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBT+ civil rights organization, said the court’s decision “is a dangerous step backward, giving some businesses the power to discriminate against people simply because of who we are.”

President Joe Biden, noting the decision’s arrival on the final day of Pride Month, said he is “deeply concerned that the decision could invite more discrimination” against LGBT+ Americans.

“More broadly, today’s decision weakens long-standing laws that protect all Americans against discrimination in public accommodations – including people of color, people with disabilities, people of faith, and women,” he added.

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