Attorney General Tong joins multi-state filing in support of New York’s anti-discrimination law
Case involves New York wedding photographer’s intention to deny service to LGBTQ+ couples; States defend constitutionality of public housing law
(Hartford, CT) – Arguing that a business owner’s religious beliefs do not give him the right to discriminate against customers, Attorney General William Tong today joined a coalition of 20 attorneys general to file a an amicus brief to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit defending the constitutionality of New York’s anti-discrimination law.
The brief was filed in Emilee Carpenter LLC v. James, in which a wedding photography business, seeking to deny services to LGBTQ+ couples, claims that New York’s public housing law violates the business owner’s rights to free speech and freedom of exercise of religion. The states brief supports New York Attorney General Letitia James, New York State Division of Human Rights Acting Commissioner Jonathan Smith, and Chemung County District Attorney Weedon Wetmore.
“We are talking here about a celebration of love and commitment. Denying service to customers solely because of who they are and who they love is wrong and illegal. New York anti-discrimination law is needed and legal, just like Connecticut’s, and we stand with Attorney General James to defend it.” said Attorney General Tong.
New York’s Public Accommodations Law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation by businesses engaged in selling to the public and prohibits such businesses from posting a notice or advertisement indicating their intention to refuse service on the basis of sexual orientation. The United States District Court for the Western District of New York granted New York’s motion to dismiss and denied plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction, finding that housing law enforcement New York public does not violate First Amendment protections for free speech or free exercise of religion. The photographer has since appealed the lower court’s decision.
The Attorneys General say they have a strong interest in upholding laws to protect their residents and visitors from unlawful discrimination, and in supporting the protection of civil rights for LGBTQ+ people, including prohibiting discrimination in places of public accommodation – restaurants, shops and other businesses that are part of daily life in a free society.
As the attorneys general’s brief describes, the First Amendment does not exempt businesses open to the public from state anti-discrimination laws. It also does not protect speech in advertisements that announce that public accommodations will refuse service based on a protected characteristic. The brief argues that exempting businesses from public housing laws on the basis of the First Amendment would undermine the vital benefits these laws provide to residents and visitors: the ever-present threat that any business owner could refuse to serve them when they walk through the door, simply because of their sexual orientation, race, religion or gender.
According to the brief, states across the country have enacted laws prohibiting discrimination against LGBTQ+ people in the commercial marketplace. To deny any person full and equal accommodation in any place of public accommodation, resort or entertainment because of race, creed, color, national origin, ancestry, sex, their gender identity or expression violates Connecticut Law 46a-64. , marital status, age, legal source of income, developmental disability, mental disability, physical disability, including but not limited to blindness or deafness, or veteran status.
Discrimination against LGBTQ+ people is a serious and persistent problem. LGBTQ+ Americans are significantly more likely to be bullied, harassed, and attacked in hate crimes than their non-LGBTQ+ peers. According to the brief, this continued discrimination harms the health and well-being of LGBTQ+ people, their families and communities, including increased rates of mental health issues and suicide attempts, particularly among LGBTQ+ youth. .
Joining Attorney General Tong in today’s brief are the attorneys general of California, Delaware, District of Columbia, Hawai’i, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.
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