Gay couple cited by Christian web designer who won Supreme Court case may not exist

A report in the New Republic raised questions about a 2016 inquiry that the plaintiff in a major Supreme Court case said she received for a same-sex wedding website.

Protesters in front of the Supreme Court hold signs reading: Create Freely and There’s no hate like Christian love.
Protesters in front of the Supreme Court on Dec. 5, 2022. (Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images) (Los Angeles Times via Getty Imag)

The same-sex couple whose request for a wedding website was cited in a major case resulting in a Supreme Court decision that undercut LGBTQ rights may not actually exist.

On Friday morning, the Supreme Court ruled 6-3 along ideological lines that Lorie Smith, a Colorado graphic designer who wanted to create wedding websites, could choose not to make them for same-sex couples despite a state law that protected against discrimination based on sexual orientation, race, gender and other characteristics. Smith, a Christian who does not make wedding websites but said she would like to, said the Colorado law violated her First Amendment rights. In a major win for the religious right, the court’s conservative justices all agreed.

However, according to a Thursday story in the New Republic, the only inquiry Smith has ever received about potentially creating a wedding website for a gay couple apparently came from a man who says he never sent it.

Lorie Smith, a Christian graphic artist and website designer in Colorado, walks with two other women in front of the Supreme Court.
Lorie Smith (at left), a Christian graphic designer, prepares to speak to supporters outside the Supreme Court on Dec. 5, 2022. (Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images) (Los Angeles Times via Getty Imag)

According to Smith and her legal team, the Christian group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a man identified as Stewart requested a wedding website in September 2016 for his upcoming marriage to someone named Mike. When reporter Melissa Gira Grant used the contact information provided by the plaintiffs in court documents to contact him, there was immediate confusion.

Grant reached a man named Stewart, who confirmed that the contact information used in the filing was his but said he was straight and married to a woman, not to a man named Mike.

“If somebody’s pulled my information, as some kind of supporting information or documentation, somebody’s falsified that,” Stewart told the outlet, adding, “I wouldn’t want anybody to ... make me a wedding website? 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.”

In a Zoom press conference following the ruling, Smith’s lawyer Kristen Waggoner said the New Republic report “was absolutely untrue” and “irrelevant to the case,” but said they did not verify if the request was from an actual gay couple or a “troll.” Waggoner, who is president of ADF, said her organization did not fabricate the request, calling the allegation “reprehensible and disgusting.”

Stewart’s supposed inquiry came the day after Smith initially filed suit. According to the New Republic, ADF did not include the information about Stewart in the initial 2016 filing but only did so in 2017 to prove that Smith had a claim.

Smith speaks into a microphone outside the Supreme Court.
Smith speaks outside the Supreme Court on Dec. 5, 2022. (Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images) (Los Angeles Times via Getty Imag)

In September 2017, U.S. District Judge Marcia Krieger dismissed parts of Smith’s case, writing, “Assuming that it indicates a market for Plaintiffs’ services, it is not clear that Stewart and Mike are a same-sex couple (as such names can be used by members of both sexes) and it does not explicitly request website services, without which there can be no refusal by Plaintiffs.”

ADF criticized Krieger’s ruling in a statement, lamenting that “a federal judge ruled that Smith and her studio can’t sue to challenge a portion of Colorado’s Anti-Discrimination Act because a request sent to Smith by a couple, self-identified as ‘Stewart’ and ‘Mike,’ isn’t formal enough to prove that a same-sex couple has asked her to help them celebrate their wedding.”

Grant allowed that it’s possible Stewart did, in fact, file the request and was lying to her, but ADF and Smith did not respond to her questions attempting to establish whether Stewart and Mike were a real couple.

The ruling is a step back for LGBTQ rights in the country. It follows a similarly ideological decision last year by the court’s 6-3 conservative majority that sided with a football coach who wanted to pray on the field after games.

In a statement following the ruling, President Biden said he was “deeply concerned that the decision could invite more discrimination against LGBTQI+ 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.”

President Biden speaks at a podium at the White House.
President Biden in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on Thursday. (Chris Kleponis/CNP/Bloomberg via Getty Images) (Bloomberg via Getty Images)

In her dissent, liberal Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote, “Today, the Court, for the first time in its history, grants a business open to the public a constitutional right to refuse to serve members of a protected class.” The Human Rights Campaign called it “a dangerous step backward and gives some businesses the license to discriminate.”

Amid record low approval and bipartisan support for reform, the court closed out its session this week with rulings against affirmative action and President Biden’s student loan debt relief plan.