First it was wedding cakes and then it was florists. Now it’s t-shirts. On Friday, the Kentucky Supreme Court will hear oral argument in a case concerning a Lexington t-shirt printer’s refusal to print shirts for LGBTQ+ Pride.
On one side is the t-shirt printer, Hands on Originals, who claims that promoting a Pride event would violate the company’s religious beliefs. On the other is a group now known as Pride Community Services Organization, which says that a local ordinance passed by the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Human Rights Commission prohibits businesses from discriminating against customers on the basis of sexual orientation.
A ruling in the case has been a long time coming. The shop originally turned away LGBTQ+ customers in 2012, which the Human Rights Commission ruled was in violation of its local nondiscrimination ordinance.
But in 2015, a circuit court judge ruled that the company “declined to print the T-shirts in question because of the message advocating sexual activity outside of a marriage between one man and one woman.” Were that ruling to stand, it would mean that religious convictions could overrule nondiscrimination laws that protect people on the basis of race, gender, religion, and more.
The t-shirt message wasn’t exactly an explicit endorsement of any form of sexual behavior. The requested design consisted of the words “Lexington Pride Festival” and the number “5” with some rainbow-colored dots.
Having lost so far in two courts, this could be the Human Rights Commission’s last chance to have its LGBTQ+ nondiscriminations upheld.
The case may hinge on the company’s reason for turning customers away. A business that serves the public — as Hands on Originals does — can’t discriminate on the basis of gender, religion, race or sexual orientation. Hands on Originals will likely argue that the sexual orientation of the customers wasn’t the issue but that the message on the shirt promoted an event which is contrary to its faith beliefs.
Arguing on behalf of the printer are lawyers from Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a right-wing advocacy organization that frequently backs businesses and schools seeking to discriminate against LGBTQ+ people.
Republican Governor Matt Bevin has also weighed in, filing a brief claiming that the shirts were “promoting homosexuality.” He is currently running for re-election against Democrat Andy Beshear. Bevin previously came out in support of Kim Davis, the Rowan County clerk who blocked same-sex couples from marrying in 2015, and last week, he spoke to the anti-LGBTQ+ lobbying group Kentucky Farm Bureau.
This case echoes a 2018 ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court involving a Colorado cake shop that refused to serve same-sex couples. But the ruling in that case was too narrow to establish a precedent and was limited to the method in which Colorado’s human rights commission reached a decision rather than the merits of nondiscrimination ordinances overall.
Oral arguments will take place at 10 a.m. Eastern time and will be livestreamed.