Human Rights Campaign Foundation Files Amicus Brief in Carpenter v. James, in Support of Business & Corporate Interest in LGBTQ+ Inclusion

by Aryn Fields

WASHINGTON — Today, the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, the educational arm of the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ+) civil rights organization, as co-counsel with Steptoe & Johnson LLP, filed an amicus brief before the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit on behalf of a group of diverse businesses. The case, Carpenter v. James, involves a wedding photographer in New York who is effectively seeking permission to turn away same-sex couples and to advertise that she will not provide services to same-sex weddings. The argument before the Court addresses the scope of protections against discrimination for LGBTQ+ patrons seeking goods or services under New York State Human Rights Law and Civil Rights Law.

On behalf of a number of prominent businesses, HRC Foundation and Steptoe & Johnson LLP argue that the plaintiffs’ proposed speech-based exemptions to the non-discrimination laws are overly broad and difficult to predict. Next the brief points out that plaintiffs’ position would create confusion in the marketplace and disrupt businesses' operations. Additionally, the brief highlights that creating expansive new speech and religious-based exemptions would create holes in non-discrimination laws that may subject many businesses’ employees to discrimination both inside and outside the workplace.

Discrimination against LGBTQ+ people in the state of New York and throughout the United States has been adjudicated repeatedly. The law is clear—discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is against the law and religious objections are no excuse to denial of equal access to goods and services under a neutral and generally applicable public accommodations law like the one in New York. This amicus brief adds to the chorus of companies that have stressed, in this court and others, that discrimination against same-sex couples is not only wrong and illegal, it also affects businesses and their bottom line.”

Cynthia Cheng-Wun Weaver, Human Rights Campaign Litigation Director

This amicus brief on behalf of businesses is similar to briefs filed in other federal cases about LGBTQ+ rights, for example in Masterpiece Cakeshop in the Supreme Court of the United States, which involved a cake store in Colorado that refused to serve same-sex couples on the basis of religious exceptions. The Supreme Court there ruled that the state of Colorado’s enforcement of its civil rights law was flawed, while reaffirming that LGBTQ+ Americans should not face discrimination in the provision of goods and services and state law may continue to prohibit such discrimination.

The Human Rights Campaign reports on news, events and resources of the Human Rights Campaign Foundation that are of interest to the general public and further our common mission to support the LGBTQ+ community.

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