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Press Release AG Healey Leads Coalition to Uphold Virginia’s Anti-Discrimination Law

Court Brief Filed in Case of Wedding Photography Business That Wants to Refuse Services to LGBTQ+ Couples
For immediate release:
8/27/2021
  • Office of Attorney General Maura Healey

Media Contact for AG Healey Leads Coalition to Uphold Virginia’s Anti-Discrimination Law

Jillian Fennimore

BOSTONAttorney General Maura Healey today led a coalition of 20 attorneys general in filing a brief in support of the constitutionality of Virginia’s anti-discrimination law.

The amicus brief was filed today with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in the case of Updegrove v. Herring. Specifically, the plaintiffs, Robert Updegrove and Loudoun Multi-Images LLC, d/b/a Bob Updegrove Photography, claim that they intend to advertise that they won’t offer wedding photography services for LGBTQ+ couples. The plaintiffs claim Virginia’s public accommodations law, amended last year to protect against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, violates their First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and free exercise of religion. Today’s brief led by AG Healey supports Virginia’s defense of the law in the plaintiffs’ appeal following the District Court’s dismissal of the lawsuit.

“Business owners cannot use the First Amendment as a shield to discriminate against their customers,” AG Healey said. “We are filing this brief to support civil rights protections for LGBTQ+ people and stand up for the rights of all Americans to fair and equal treatment.”

In the brief, the attorneys general argue that states across the country have enacted laws to prohibit discrimination against LGBTQ+ people in places of public accommodations to prevent severe economic, personal, and social harm. Discrimination by places of public accommodation “denies equal access to important goods and services and, by segregating the market, has a well-established ‘substantial and harmful effect’ on the economy.”

According to the brief, a majority of Americans – 189 million – now live in communities that expressly prohibit places of public accommodation from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation. At least 22 states, including Massachusetts, and the District of Columbia have such laws. Virginia’s public accommodations law, which has been in effect since July 2020, forbids sexual-orientation discrimination by businesses engaged in sales to the public, and forbids such businesses from posting a notice indicating their intention to refuse service on the basis of sexual orientation.

Today’s brief further argues that prejudice “on account of sexual orientation ‘has severely limited or actually prevented access to employment, housing and other basic necessities of life, leading to deprivation and suffering’ and fostered a general climate of hostility and distrust, leading in some instances to physical violence.’” The brief points out that the Supreme Court has long held that discrimination in public accommodations is a “unique evil.”

The attorneys general argue that the First Amendment does not allow a business to exclude customers in violation of anti-discrimination laws. It also does not protect the speech in advertisements that give notice that places of public accommodations will refuse service on the basis of a protected characteristic.

Finally, the attorneys general call on the Court to follow the Supreme Court’s instruction to ensure that LGBTQ+ individuals are not subjected to “indignities when they seek goods and services in an open market.” The attorneys general argue that permitting businesses like the plaintiffs’ to discriminate on supposed First Amendment grounds would fundamentally undermine our country’s anti-discrimination laws, including with respect to discrimination on the basis of race, sex, and religion, as well as sexual orientation.

Today’s brief follows many other instances where AG Healey led a coalition in defending public accommodation laws in other states, including New York’s anti-discrimination law in July 2021, Minnesota’s law in March 2018, and Colorado’s law in October 2017 in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case.

In 2016, AG Healey worked closely with advocates, the business community, and transgender families to successfully garner support for the passage of the Massachusetts’ Public Accommodations Law.

Joining AG Healey in filing today’s amicus brief are the attorneys general of California, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Hawai‘i, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Vermont.

The amicus brief was handled in Massachusetts by Assistant Attorney General Adam Cambier of AG Healey’s Civil Rights Division, State Solicitor Bessie Dewar, and Chief of the AG’s Government Bureau Robin Toone.

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Media Contact for AG Healey Leads Coalition to Uphold Virginia’s Anti-Discrimination Law

Office of Attorney General Maura Healey 

Attorney General Maura Healey is the chief lawyer and law enforcement officer of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
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