Report reveals anti-LGBTQ case now before Supreme Court may have been “fabricated”

Report reveals anti-LGBTQ case now before Supreme Court may have been “fabricated”

The supposed author of the inquiry for a same-sex couple’s wedding website cited in the filing for 303 Creative v. Elenis — a Supreme Court case regarding Colorado web designer Lorie Smith, who refuses to create wedding sites for same-sex couples and seeks an exemption from anti-discrimination laws — told New Republic that he never made the request.

According to court filings, Stewart contacted Smith in September 2016 through her website regarding his wedding to his partner, Mike, slated for “early next year.” He wrote that they “would love some design work done for our invites, placenames etc. We might also stretch to a website.” Stewart also listed his number, email address and a link to his own website, which indicated that he was also a graphic designer, in the inquiry.

When the New Republic’s Melissa Gira Grant contacted Stewart, whose information except for his last name was included in the filing, about the website creation request, he told her it was “the very first time I’ve heard of it.”

Stewart confirmed that the contact information on the inquiry form was correct, but said he never sent the form and was married to a woman at the time of its creation. 

“If somebody’s pulled my information, as some kind of supporting information or documentation, somebody’s falsified that,” Stewart said.

“I wouldn’t want anybody to … make me a wedding website?” he continued. “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.”

The Supreme Court is expected to deliver its opinion on the case, in which the Stewart contact form plays a minute role, by the end of its session this summer. The case could be, as stated in a question from Justice Sonia Sotomayor at a December oral argument, “the first time in the Court’s history … [that] a commercial business open to the public, serving the public, that it could refuse to serve a customer based on race, sex, religion, or sexual orientation.”

Smith and her attorneys first brought the case before the U.S. District Court in Colorado in 2016, asking the court to exempt her from the state’s anti-discrimination law so she could legally offer her wedding website design services to straight couples only. Smith had previously never designed any wedding websites, and she and her attorneys ultimately lost the case.

She received the “Stewart” inquiry on Sept. 21, a day after she filed the lawsuit, according to the date-stamp shown in later court filings. It is unclear when or if the inquiry from “Stewart” was ever verified over the course of the initial legal battle.

The defense filed a motion to dismiss the case on Oct. 19, 2016, citing Smith’s lack of inquiries for the services she wants to deny. Smith’s legal team, the Christian right group Alliance Defending Freedom, issued a response the following month, notably not mentioning the September inquiry from Stewart but arguing that Smith did not need to have received a request in order to challenge the law over fears of consequences she could face if she denied services to a same-sex couple.

ADF did not make mention of the “Stewart” inquiry or argue its relevance until February 2017.

“Notably, any claim that Lorie will never receive a request to create a custom website celebrating a same-sex ceremony is no longer legitimate because Lorie has received such a request,” the group wrote. “Even though she is not currently in the wedding industry, Lorie received an email inquiry on September 21, 2016.”

In a sworn statement, Smith further explained that she “received a request through the ‘contact’ webpage on my website from a person named, ‘Stewart,’ reference number 9741406, to create graphic designs for invitations and other materials for a same-sex wedding (‘same-sex wedding request’).”

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The federal court ruled on the case in September 2017, stating that the evidence provided did not allow it to “determine the imminent likelihood that anyone, much less a same-sex couple, will request Plaintiff’s services.” The court also said that the “Stewart” inquiry was “too imprecise” and that “assuming it indicates a market for Plaintiff’s 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).”

ADF fired off in defiance of the ruling at a press release, claiming 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.” 

The group’s later appeal expanded those arguments: “according to Social Security Administration (SSA) data, only a nanoscopic number of women have been named Stewart or Mike since 1880. Lorie faces a 16 times greater chance of being struck by lightning than either name being female,” it read.

Stewart, who said he was never contacted in connection to the case, later told New Republic via text message that the situation didn’t make sense to him. He questioned why a web designer living in San Francisco would endeavor to hire someone from a different state who has never constructed a wedding website to build one for him.

He had also told the outlet that he first learned of Smith when her case was brought before the Supreme Court and the design community began discussing its potential results.

“I disagree with this, in the strongest possible terms,” Stewart told Grant of Smith’s desire to circumvent laws protecting people from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. “I couldn’t disagree with her stance more.”

During their arguments before the Supreme Court this session, ADF did not bring up the “Stewart” inquiry or refer to Stewart and Mike specifically, but Grant writes, “they don’t need to.”

“Their entire case, after all, is built around the idea of gay people doing something that they have not yet done, nor ever will do,” she continued.

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