Like many states, New York prohibits public accommodations—businesses that provide goods and services to the general public—from discriminating based on a variety of protected characteristics, including sexual orientation. Emilee Carpenter, a photographer in southern New York, objects to marriages between same-sex couples on religious grounds. In April 2021, seeking to discriminate openly against same-sex couples who need wedding photography, Carpenter filed a lawsuit challenging New York’s antidiscrimination law.
The state filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit in June 2021, and Americans United filed an amicus brief in support of the state. In December 2021, the district court ruled in favor of the state and dismissed the lawsuit. The court explained that Carpenter’s freedom-of-religion arguments lacked merit because New York’s antidiscrimination law does not target religious objectors but instead prohibits all sexual-orientation discrimination in public accommodations.
Carpenter appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. In May 2022, Americans United once again filed an amicus brief supporting the state, arguing that the right to freely exercise religion does not give Carpenter an entitlement to discriminate based on sexual orientation, that New York’s law does not coerce Carpenter into participating in religious activities, and that laws prohibiting discrimination by public accommodations are vital to ensuring religious freedom for all. If public accommodations were free to discriminate on religious grounds, countless New Yorkers could be turned away by photographers, bakers, restaurants, and more simply for being the “wrong” religion. Such a result would stifle religious freedom, not support it.