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Attorney General Tong: Strong Anti-Discrimination Laws Continue to Protect LGBTQ+ Rights in Connecticut

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Attorney General William Tong

07/11/2023

Attorney General Tong: Strong Anti-Discrimination Laws Continue to Protect LGBTQ+ Rights in Connecticut

Attorney General Tong Releases Guidance on Connecticut Laws Protecting LGBTQ+ Rights in Connecticut after U.S. Supreme Court Decision in 303 Creative v. Elenis

(Hartford, CT) – Attorney General William Tong today released guidance affirming strong state and federal anti-discrimination laws protecting LGBTQ+ rights after the painful and wrongly decided U.S. Supreme Court decision in 303 Creative v. Elenis.

“Strong state and federal anti-discrimination laws continue to protect LGBTQ+ people in Connecticut. Attorney General William Tong and the Office of the Connecticut Attorney General will continue to stand with LGBTQ+ people against hate and discrimination,” the memo states.

“Connecticut will remain a hallmark for equality and inclusivity because of the shared values of our people and the strength of our laws,” said Treasurer Erick Russell. “I’m heartened to read this guidance confirming the standing of our anti-discrimination statutes and I’m grateful to serve in a state government unanimously committed to protecting the rights of its residents.”

“While SCOTUS attempts to provide businesses a free-speech right to discriminate against the LGBTQ+ community and the conservative majority on the court constructs another vehicle to rewrite U.S. Constitutional law, I applaud Attorney General Tong for his office’s swift affirmation of state and federal laws that protect LGBTQ+ rights and the legal guidance that serves to bulwark against judicial activism and overreach,” said State Rep. Jeff Currey (D-East Hartford, Manchester), a member of the legislature’s LGBTQ+ Caucus.

The memo, drafted by Solicitor General Joshua Perry, outlines why 303 Creative’s legal logic and facts have a limited reach. The case gave a Colorado web designer a constitutional free speech right to refuse to create an original, custom-designed website for a same-sex couple. The case involved Colorado’s law forbidding “public accommodations” from discriminating against LGBTQ+ people. In Colorado, like in Connecticut, that means any establishment that caters or offers its services or facilities or goods to the general public cannot deny equal service and treatment on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. The owner agreed that she was generally obligated to serve LGBTQ+ people, but sought a narrow exception to the law because she did not want to create an original wedding website, which she argued was a form of expression.

Six justices of the Supreme Court agreed with her. Still, they did not question the role that public accommodations laws play in protecting our civil rights. They carved out a narrow exception for the extremely rare facts in this case—a commercial service where an artist accepts carefully vetted commissions to create custom-tailored, original works of expressive “pure speech.”

The Connecticut Attorney General’s Office filed a brief in 303 Creative defending LGBTQ+ rights, and continues to believe that this case was wrongly decided. First: A commercially-created wedding website for which a designer is compensated to create a design on behalf of a couple is not the designer’s own speech. Second: Anti-discrimination laws have usually been understood to forbid conduct, not speech. The law does not compel a web designer to speak. Instead, she has chosen to offer her services to the general public. All the law does is forbid “the act of discriminating against individuals in the provision of publicly available goods, privileges, and services.”

That being said, the memo explains how even that wrong-decided opinion has a limited impact on Connecticut’s anti-discrimination laws. Most businesses and services are not anything like the customized “pure speech” in this case. This decision does not create a right to religious discrimination—this does not allow business owners to discriminate because of religious or philosophical objections to same-sex marriage or LGBTQ+ identity.

The vast majority of Connecticut’s anti-discrimination laws protecting LGBTQ+ people are untouched by this decision, including:

Marriage equality remains the law. It is protected by the U.S. Constitution, the Connecticut Constitution, and state law. A federal statute requires other states to respect same-sex marriages that are legal in Connecticut.

Employers cannot discriminate against LGBTQ+ employees. Federal and state law prohibit employers from discriminating against LGBTQ+ employees – or candidates for jobs – on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity and expression.

It is illegal to discriminate against LGBTQ+ people in housing and credit decisions. Connecticut law forbids financial institutions from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression. And discrimination against LGBTQ+ people in residential housing transactions – including listing, buying, selling, and renting – is also illegal.

Connecticut’s hate crime laws protect LGBTQ+ people. Connecticut’s criminal laws protect against hate crimes including intimidation and violence based on anti-LGBTQ+ bigotry or bias.

“The Office will continue to fight for the rights of LGBTQ+ people. That means staying vigilant to ensure that courts do not further erode civil rights and that businesses do not incorrectly take 303 Creative as a license to discriminate. We will continue to engage, in courts across the country, to protect LGBTQ+ rights. And we are prepared to use our civil rights enforcement jurisdiction – which this Attorney General asked for and the General Assembly passed in 2021 – to go on offense to protect LGBTQ+ residents,” the memo concludes.


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Media Contact:

Elizabeth Benton
elizabeth.benton@ct.gov

Consumer Inquiries:

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