Real LGBT Voices from Lambda Legal Brief Heard in Supreme Court Fight About Cake

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December 8, 2017
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David Mullins and Charlie Craig with Craig's mother Debby Munn outside the Supreme Court earlier this week

Lambda Legal is at the forefront of critical litigation across the country, often as lead counsel, but also in many cases as “amicus curiae” – which is Latin for “friend of the court.” In our amicus role, we submit amicus briefs to courts that provide important information about how legal issues at play in a case directly affect LGBT people and people living with HIV.

Amicus briefs can influence conversations in meaningful ways, both among the judges deciding cases and among society in general.

Sometimes we can see in a court’s opinion how the expertise Lambda Legal brought to the table affected the outcome and tenor of a case, as judges become more informed about what’s really at stake.

And this week, it couldn’t have been clearer that our amicus brief filed last month in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission had been heard loud and clear by the Supreme Court.

In our brief, we brought the stories of thousands of LGBT people and people with living with HIV right into the justices’ chambers. Our brief presented dozens of first-person accounts of the types of discrimination faced daily by members of our community across the country.

These narratives show the Court that real lives are affected profoundly by anti-LGBT discrimination. They illustrate vividly the importance of preserving effective anti-discrimination protections where they exist now, and enacting them where they don’t yet exist.

The majority of the stories in our brief came to us through our Legal Help Desk. It also included accounts brought to our attention by other organizations such as the Family Equality Council and PFLAG, and examples from discrimination cases we have litigated in court.

Indeed, our litigation docket provided multiple examples of discrimination that show the shocking – and sadly commonplace – hostility to same-sex couples that exists around the country, such as the treatment of former Lambda Legal clients Steven and Matthew. In 2013, their Chicago taxi driver (our amicus brief described) “threatened to eject them at the side of the highway late at night during a rainstorm.”

In the brief, their first-person account elaborated: “On the way home, we exchanged a quick kiss in the backseat of the cab. When the driver saw us kiss, he pulled the cab over on the side of the Kennedy Expressway and demanded we exit the cab right there on the side of the highway.”

The brief also detailed the discrimination encountered by a family headed by a lesbian couple, whose bleeding daughter was denied emergency treatment by a dentist after falling and knocking out her front tooth. The dentist refused to accept the child’s mother as her mother, telling her “a child cannot have two mothers.”

Justice Sotomayor referenced these specific narratives, among others, during the oral argument this past Tuesday:

JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR: … look, we live in a society with competing beliefs, and all of our cases have always said where LGBT people have been – you know, they've been humiliated, disrespected, treated uncivilly. The briefs are filled with situations that –­ … the gay couple who was left on the side of the highway on a rainy night, people who have been denied medical treatment or whose children have been denied medical treatment because the doctor didn't believe in same-sex parenthood, et cetera.

This moment during the Supreme Court oral argument highlighting the stories we shared in our brief is a poignant and gratifying illustration of our work, and of just how powerful the real stories of anti-LGBT discrimination are in helping the Court understand and care about the lives at stake.

In the end, what matters most about the law is the people that laws are written to protect.

Lambda Legal brings expertise about these laws to the table in legal discourse across the country. And we are also honored to amplify the voices of the people who make up our communities and are the heart of why we go to court, Congress and City Hall to fight for legal protections in the first place.

If you have experienced discrimination because of your sexual orientation, gender identity and expression or HIV status, and are in need of information or resources regarding your rights, please contact Lambda Legal’s Help Desk.

We are your lawyers, and we’ll never stop fighting for all of our rights.