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Kentucky Supreme Court Hears Gay Pride T-Shirt Discrimination Case

Ludovic Bertron, via Wikimedia Commons

The Kentucky Supreme Court heard arguments Friday over whether a Lexington company was allowed to refuse to print T-shirts for organizers of the city’s gay pride parade.

Blaine Adams, the owner of Hands On Originals, refused to make T-shirts for Lexington’s Gay and Lesbian Services Organization in 2012, saying that doing so would have violated his religious beliefs.

GLSO filed a complaint with the Lexington Human Rights Commission, which said the company had violated the city’s fairness ordinance.

But Hands On Originals appealed the decision and courts have so far ruled against the human rights commission’s decision, saying the company’s actions were protected under the First Amendment.

James Campbell, an attorney for Hands On Originals, argued the case before the state Supreme Court on Friday.

“The first amendment in this case cuts in Hands On Originals’ favor. Because the first amendment ensures that the government can’t use a law to force someone to print or convey a message that they find objectionable,” Campbell said.

The Gay and Lesbian Services Organization argues that the company violated Lexington’s fairness ordinance, which bans discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment, housing and public accommodations.

The shirt they asked Hands On Originals to print said “Lexington Pride Festival” on it with the number 5, signifying the 5th anniversary of the event.

Edward Dove, an attorney for Lexington’s Human Rights Commission, argued that Hands On Originals was engaging in targeted censorship.

“That’s why we have a public accommodations ordinance: to stop businesses from allowing certain populations to be discriminated against and not enjoy the goods and services that are being offered by that business,” Dove said.

Justices asked questions about whether the company’s interpretation of the law would allow businesses to discriminate against other groups based on messages about race, religion or sexual orientation.

Justice Michelle Keller compared the company’s refusal to print the T-shirts to housing and business discrimination against Catholics in the U.S. in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

“I mean that would still be OK under this analysis, wouldn’t it? I mean that kind of overt discrimination between faiths? As long as it is tied to the production of printed material,” Keller said.

Twelve cities in Kentucky have fairness ordinances, which forbid discrimination by businesses based on sexual orientation.

Some Kentucky lawmakers have for years pushed for a statewide fairness law, but the policy has never received an official vote in a legislative committee.

Others have proposed legislation that would gut local fairness ordinances by protecting businesses from being sued or having to pay fines for violating the laws.

Ryland Barton is the Managing Editor for Collaboratives for Kentucky Public Radio, a group of public radio stations including WKMS, WFPL in Louisville, WEKU in Richmond and WKYU in Bowling Green. A native of Lexington, Ryland most recently served as the Capitol Reporter for Kentucky Public Radio. He has covered politics and state government for NPR member stations KWBU in Waco and KUT in Austin.
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