MA AG: No to “Religious Freedoms” Used to Discriminate, Leads 20 States in Supreme Court Brief 

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“Religious Freedoms” Amicus Brief Filed in Case Over Colorado Business that Refused to Serve Same-Sex Couple 

BOSTON—Arguing that a business owner’s personal beliefs do not give him a right to discriminate against customers, Attorney General Maura Healey today joined with Hawaii Attorney General Doug Chin and a coalition of 18 other attorneys general in filing  an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court  defending the constitutionality of Colorado’s anti-discrimination law. 

“More than 50 years after we desegregated lunch counters in this country, businesses cannot pick and choose which customers they’ll serve based on their race, gender, religion or sexual orientation,” said AG Healey. “We are filing this brief to stand up for the rights of all Americans to fair and equal treatment.” 

The brief was filed with the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. The owner of the bakery is challenging the Colorado public accommodations law, claiming it violates his rights to freedom of speech and free exercise of religion.  

The attorneys general filed the brief in support of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission and the couple to whom Masterpiece Cakeshop refused to sell a wedding cake.  

In the brief, the attorneys general write that states across the country have enacted laws to prohibit discrimination against LGBTQ people in the commercial marketplace, and that “these laws ensure equal access to goods and services and combat the severe personal, economic, and social harms caused by discrimination.” The attorneys general argue that, under a long line of Supreme Court precedent, requiring businesses to comply with such laws does not violate the Constitution. 

The attorneys general further argue  that the First Amendment exemption to public accommodations laws sought by the bakery would dramatically undermine anti-discrimination laws. 

“Allowing commercial businesses to use the First Amendment as a shield for discriminatory conduct would undermine state civil rights laws and the vital benefits they provide to residents and visitors, leaving behind a society separate and unequal by law. Many Americans would face exclusion from a host of everyday businesses or, at the very least, the ever-present threat that any business owner could refuse to serve them when they walk in the door—simply because of their sexual orientation, or their race, religion, or gender,” write the attorneys general. 

 Joining AG Healey and AG Chin in the amicus brief are the attorneys general of California, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and Washington. 

Today’s brief follows many steps taken by AG Healey to protect and expand the rights of LGBTQ people.  

When she was an assistant attorney general at the AG’s Office, AG Healey served as the lead attorney on the first successful challenge brought by a state to the federal government’s Defense of Marriage Act and won when a federal district court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit ruled DOMA was unconstitutional.  

In 2015,  AG Healey led a coalition of states in filing a friend of the court brief with the U.S. Supreme Court arguing that the Constitution requires marriage equality nationwide. 

Last year, AG Healey worked closely with advocates, the business community and transgender families to successfully garner support for the Public Accommodations Law , one of the strongest transgender protection bills in the country, protecting transgender people from discrimination in places of public accommodation including restaurants, movie theaters, hospitals, and parks. 

Earlier this month, AG Healey  led a coalition of attorneys general in filing an  amicus brief strongly opposing the  Trump Administration’s plan to ban military service by transgender service members. 

AG Healey  partnered  with the medical community to hold trainings to teach hospital personnel best practices in improving access to medical care for LGBTQ patients across the state. 

The AG’s Office also hosts a wide variety of outreach events for the LGBTQ community throughout the state, at which AG staff meet directly with members of the LGBTQ community to inform them of their rights under the law and how the AG’s Office can assist them. The amicus brief was handled in Massachusetts by State Solicitor Bessie Dewar, Assistant State Solicitor David Kravitz, and Assistant Attorney General Jon Burke and Division Chief Genevieve Nadeau, both of the AG’s Civil Rights Division, and in Hawaii by Solicitor General Clyde Wadsworth and Deputy Solicitor General Kalikoʻonalani Fernandes. 

 

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