DENVER — A Colorado web designer who the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Friday could refuse to make wedding websites for gay couples cited a request from a man who says he never asked to work with her.
The request in dispute, from a person identified as “Stewart,” wasn’t the basis for the federal lawsuit filed preemptively seven years ago by web designer Lorie Smith, before she started making wedding websites. But as the case advanced, it was referenced by her attorneys when lawyers for the state of Colorado pressed Smith on whether she had sufficient grounds to sue.
The revelation distracts from Smith’s victory at a time when she might have been basking in her win, which is widely considered a setback for gay rights.
Smith named Stewart — and included a website service request from him, listing his phone number and email address in 2017 court documents. But Stewart told The Associated Press he never submitted the request and didn’t know his name was invoked in the lawsuit until he was contacted this week by a reporter from The New Republic, which first reported his denial.
“I was incredibly surprised given the fact that I’ve been happily married to a woman for the last 15 years,” said Stewart, who declined to give his last name for fear of harassment and threats. His contact information, but not his last name, were listed in court documents.
He added that he was a designer and “could design my own website if I need to” — and was concerned no one had checked into the validity of the request cited by Smith until recently.
Smith’s lawyer, Kristen Waggoner, said at a Friday news conference that the wedding request naming Stewart was submitted through Smith’s website and denied it was fabricated.
She suggested it could have been a troll making the request, something that’s happened with other clients she has represented. In 2018 her client Colorado baker Jack Phillips won a partial U.S. Supreme Court victory after refusing to make a gay couple’s wedding cake, citing his Christian faith.
“It’s undisputed that the request was received,” Waggoner said. “Whether that was a troll and not a genuine request, or it was someone who was looking for that, is really irrelevant to the case.”
Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser on Friday called the lawsuit a “made up case” because Smith wasn’t offering wedding website services when the suit was filed.
Weiser didn’t know the specifics of Stewart’s denial, but said the nation’s high court should not have addressed the lawsuit’s merits “without any basis in reality.”
About a month after the case was filed in federal court challenging an anti-discrimination law in Colorado, lawyers for the state said Smith had not been harmed by the law as they moved to dismiss the case.
Her lawyers maintained Smith did not have to be punished for violating the law before challenging it. In February 2017 they said even though she did not need a request in order to pursue the case, she had received one.
“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,” they said.
Smith’s Supreme Court filings briefly mentioned she received at least one request to create a website celebrating the wedding of a same-sex couple. There did not appear to be any reference to the issue in the court’s decision.