Attorney General Bonta Joins National Effort to Support Fundamental Right of LGBTQ+ Americans to Access Businesses and Facilities Open to the Public

Friday, August 19, 2022
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OAKLAND – California Attorney General Rob Bonta today joined a coalition of 21 attorneys general in filing an amicus brief urging the U.S. Supreme Court to reject a challenge to Colorado’s public accommodations law. Public accommodations laws work to prevent discrimination and help ensure all Americans are able to access businesses or facilities that are a part of daily life and used by the public at large, including restaurants and grocery stores. In the case currently before the court, a private company that wants to offer wedding website services is attempting to undermine Colorado’s public accommodations law by refusing services to same-sex couples. In the friend-of-the-court brief, the coalition highlights the states’ interest in eradicating discrimination and protecting the rights of all of their residents.

“It’s 2022 and we’re still stuck fighting to ensure LGBTQ+ Americans can access basic business services open to the public,” said Attorney General Bonta. “Don’t let anyone fool you: We can’t let up for an instant. Public accommodations laws are a critical part of our efforts to protect against discrimination — and they are under attack. In California, we’re fighting back. No matter who you are or who you love, we’re going to continue to stand up for the fundamental rights of all of our residents. I urge the Supreme Court to reject this challenge to Colorado’s laws.”

For centuries, legal precedent has required businesses that offer their goods and services to the public to serve all customers on an equal footing. Following the end of the Civil War, numerous states — including Colorado — codified this requirement by statute. Today, the vast majority of states have laws forbidding public accommodations from discriminating against customers on the basis of protected characteristics such as race, religion, sex, and sexual orientation. Statutes forbidding discrimination in the marketplace ensure that everyone, regardless of who they are, will have access to goods and services and will not face the significant harms caused by exclusion from public spaces and services — harms that continue to fall on members of the LGBTQ+ community across the country. Allowing private businesses to exempt themselves from these statutes would dramatically undermine the states’ interests in eradicating discrimination and harm individuals and society at large. Importantly, public accommodations laws do not compel speech as suggested by the company in this case; instead, such laws simply require that establishments only offer their services equally.

In the amicus brief, the coalition asserts:

  • Public accommodations statutes have long been a centerpiece of efforts to prevent discrimination in commercial establishments;
  • Such laws serve to protect individuals and society at large from the significant harms caused by discrimination;
  • LGBTQ+ Americans in particular continue to suffer the harms from discrimination that public accommodations laws strive to eliminate;
  • Prohibiting businesses from discriminating against customers does not compel speech;
  • Public accommodations laws are narrowly tailored to serve states’ specific, compelling antidiscrimination interests while respecting free speech and freedom of religion; and
  • The exception sought by the private company in this case would result in widespread and varied forms of discrimination.

In filing the amicus brief, Attorney General Bonta joins the attorneys general of Massachusetts, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington.

A copy of the amicus brief is available here.

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