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Man cited in Supreme Court LGBTQ rights case says he was never involved

Stewart was working on his couch in his Portland, Ore., home last week when he received a text from a New Republic reporter that left him “flabbergasted.”

A request he appeared to have made in 2016 to a Colorado artist to create designs and possibly a website for his same-sex wedding was now part of a case before the U.S. Supreme Court, the reporter told him.

Except Stewart — who didn’t want his full name used out of fear of being harassed — is not gay. In fact, he has been married to a woman for 15 years, and he’s a web designer himself.

“I’ve been active and vocal on LGBTQ rights,” he told The Washington Post on Saturday. “So it was frustrating to see my name being used.”

On Friday, the Supreme Court ruled 6-to-3 in favor of a Christian graphic artist in Littleton, Colo., who argued that free speech protections allowed her to refuse to design wedding websites for same-sex couples.

Lorie Smith filed her initial case to Colorado district court in 2016, arguing that the state’s anti-discrimination law prevented her from including a message on the webpage for her company, 303 Creative, stating that she would not create wedding websites for gay couples.

In subsequent court documents, her lawyers cited a query that they said was sent by an individual named Stewart with contact information that matches the person The Post interviewed. The request asked for Smith’s services for Stewart’s forthcoming 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 message cited in the case read.

However, Stewart told The Post he had never contacted Smith.

Smith also cited the request in court documents as her case progressed to the Supreme Court. But the high court didn’t require that Smith had received a real request from “Stewart & Mike” or anyone else. Smith filed a “pre-enforcement challenge” to the Colorado statute because state would have probably moved against her if she had posted a statement about her intention to refuse service to same-sex couples on her website.

Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, writing for the majority, said a lower court found that a reasonable assumption because of Colorado’s actions in other cases regarding same-sex marriages. On the merits, the court majority said the state of Colorado could not compel her to design any such site because it would “force her to convey messages inconsistent with her belief that marriage should be reserved to unions between one man and one woman.”

Even if the existence of Stewart’s request wasn’t real, the justices did not seem to regard it as legally relevant to considering Smith’s case. The justices who disagreed didn’t raise it as an issue. Writing for the dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor said the court was denying protection for LGBTQ+ people. “The opinion of the court is, quite literally, a notice that reads: ‘Some services may be denied to same-sex couples.’”

The court filing in Stewart’s name has left many baffled, including Stewart himself, who said he was concerned that the case had proceeded without anyone verifying if the request was authentic.

“There is a responsibility on the part of Lorie Smith’s lawyers and legal representatives to do their due diligence and make sure that this evidence is accurate,” he said.

Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser told the Associated Press that it was a “made-up case.” In a news release, he criticized the decision.

“The opinion represents a radical departure from decades of Court precedent and fails to uphold the principle of ‘Equal Justice for All’ inscribed on the U.S. Supreme Court building,” Weiser said in the statement.

In a statement to The Post, conservative legal organization Alliance Defending Freedom, which assisted Smith with legal representation, said that she received the request cited.

“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,” the organization said.

Smith filed the lawsuit a day before the request from “Stewart” that was cited in the filed complaint.

ADF added that Smith received “other wedding requests and has been unable to respond to any request because that put her at risk of punishment for violating Colorado’s unjust law.”

In the majority opinion, Gorsuch wrote that Smith’s designs were considered as speech, and so covered by the Constitution’s free speech protections.

The court noted that Smith had said she was “willing to work with all people regardless of classifications such as race, creed, sexual orientation, and gender” and “will gladly create custom graphics and websites” of any sexual orientation, but would “not produce content that ‘contradicts biblical truth.’”

For Stewart, being dragged into this case has felt strange and ironic — noting that during the time the request was made in September 2016, he had been working with the social media team for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

“It would be comical if the stakes weren’t so high,” Stewart said.

Robert Barnes contributed to this report.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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