Matt Bevin, the Republican governor of Kentucky, has backed a t-shirt company in its high court battle, after it refused to print pride shirts due to its owner’s religious beliefs.
The Lexington-based company, Hands On Originals, had refused to print slogans for city’s Gay and Lesbian Services Organization in 2012, who had placed the order in advance of a gay pride march.
Owner and managing director, Blaine Adamson, declined to accept the order, saying slogans of gay pride breached his religious belief system.
“Specifically, it’s the Lexington Pride Festival, the name and that it’s advocating pride in being gay and being homosexual, and I can’t promote that message”, he told the city’s Human Rights Commission.
The Commission had ruled that Adamson’s refusal to take the order breached a city ordinance which prohibits local businesses from discriminating on grounds of sexual orientation.
The ruling was overturned by the Kentucky court of appeals last year, which found that the ordinance did not extend to speech.
In a 2:1 finding, the court ruled that while the city’s ‘fairness’ ordinance does protect gays and lesbians from being discriminated against, it does not mean that they are obliged to spread a certain message.
“The right of free speech does not guarantee to any person the right to use someone else’s property,” wrote Chief Judge Joy Kramer.
The ruling was blasted by the Gay and Lesbian Services Organization, now named the Pride Community Services Organisation, who said the ruling was not about free speech, but about LGBT+ people being treated as “second class citizens”.
The agency decided to ask the Kentucky Supreme Court for a hearing, which they have accepted.
Now, the case is before the state’s highest court and being backed by the state’s Governor. Attorneys for Bevin have been asked to file a brief for the court case involving Hands On Originals.
The state needs to protect the right of citizens to act according to their conscience, Bevin says.
It is not the first time that the conservative Governor’s views on the LGBT+ community have landed him in the spotlight.
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In March, Bevin signed legislation which allows student groups which receive public funding at universities, colleges and high schools to discriminate against LGBT+ students.
The law protects students who “voluntarily express religious or political viewpoints … in classroom, homework, artwork, and other written and oral assignments”, even when those views are homophobic.
It was labelled “shameful” by Human Rights Commission’s legal director, Sarah Warbelow who said: “No student should fear being excluded from a school club or participating in a school activity because they are LGBTQ”.
She added: “While of course private groups should have the freedom to express religious viewpoints, they should not be able to unfairly discriminate with taxpayer funds.”
Bevin is also a strong backer of the anti-gay marriage clerk, Kim Davis, who made news in 2015 for blocking the marriage of gay couples in Rowan County, Kentucky, after the Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples had the constitutional right to marry.
The anti-LGBT marriage clerk eventually allowed her office to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, after she was briefly jailed for contempt of court, but only if the marriage licenses did not bear her name as the clerk.
At the time, Bevin pledged to re-draft the state’s laws to aid Davis, saying: “One thing I will take care of right away, we will remove the names of county clerks from the marriage forms. That is going to be done.”