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Sunday, December 15, 2019

Kentucky company can't be sued for refusing to print gay pride T-shirts

State Court

By Charmaine Little | Nov 12, 2019


FRANKFORT, Ky. (Legal Newsline) – On Oct. 31, the Supreme Court of Kentucky dismissed a lawsuit against a Lexington company that raised biblical principals in its decision to refuse to print T-shirts for a local Pride festival.

The Supreme Court determined that while the issues raised in the case are vital, “This matter must be dismissed because the Gay and Lesbian Services Organization, the original party to bring this action before the Lexington Fayette Urban County Human Rights Commission (LFUCG), lacked statutory standing to assert a claim on Hands On Originals under the Lexington Fayette Urban County Government ordinance, Section 2-33 and Kentucky Revised Statutes 344.120,” wrote Justice Laurance VanMeter.

Hands On Originals has a policy on its website that says it has the right to refuse services that would co-sign issues that don’t line up with the biblical convictions of the ownership. One of those convictions is that marriage should be between a man and a woman, and that even physical intimacies between a man and woman should not happen outside of marriage.

With that in mind, VanMeter noted that statutory standing was not forfeited in this case. Hands On stated that the GLSO didn’t have standing to bring the claim. While a hearing commissioner disagreed, the Supreme Court sided with Hands On, and said that since it wasn’t an individual who filed the claim, but an organization, “we would have to determine whether the organization is a member of the protected class, which we find impossible to ascertain,” according to the opinion.  

Justice David Buckingham concurred, but wrote his own opinion and said that Hands On has been consistent with objecting to same-sex messages. He pointed out that Hands On had refused 13 orders that it has found offensive in the two years before the case. 

He pointed out that this shows Hands On acts in good faith in not designing a message it doesn’t agree with. He said ultimately, he would agree with the Fayette Circuit Court’s opinion, which also reversed an order against Hands On.

The ruling states in 2012, a GLSO rep reached out to Hands On about making T-shirts for the 2012 Lexington Pride Festival. About a month after getting a quote from a Hands On rep (who hadn’t contacted managing owner Blaine Adamson about the design), a second GLSO rep contacted Hands On about the price. At this point, Adamson asked about what a Pride Festival was, and declined the service after realizing it would back the LGBTQ+ community. Adamson referred GLSO to a different shop. 

GLSO President Aaron Baker then filed a complaint with the commission, which ruled that Hands On infringed on a LFUCGs public accommodation ordinance “which prohibits a public accommodation from discriminating against individuals based on their sexual orientation or gender identity,” according to the opinion. Both sides then filed for summary judgment, and the hearing commissioner sided with GLSO and barred Hands On from discriminating because of sexual orientation or gender identity.

Hands On appealed in the Fayette Circuit Court, which reversed the opinion and remanded it for dismissal. The Court of Appeals affirmed the Circuit Court's decision. The Commission then petitioned this court for discretionary review.  

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