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January 30, 2023


The ACLU of Kentucky today filed an amicus brief asking a federal appeals court to uphold Louisville’s LGBTQ anti-discrimination protections. The brief asks the court to reverse a lower court ruling that opened the door for businesses to deny service to LGBTQ people. 

Louisville’s anti-discrimination ordinance bars businesses that are open to the public from refusing service to customers based on clearly defined innate characteristics, including a customer’s sexual orientation.

“Louisville Metro Government unquestionably has the authority to prohibit businesses within its borders from discriminating against LGBTQ people in the sales of goods and services to the general public,” said ACLU of Kentucky Legal Director Corey Shapiro. “If a business needs to know who the service is for to decide whether it will provide those services, that is identity-based discrimination.”

In late 2019, a wedding photographer filed a lawsuit challenging Louisville’s Fairness Ordinance, claiming the First Amendment and Kentucky’s 2013 Religious Freedom Restoration Act protect her right to deny service to and discriminate against LGBTQ people. The photographer argues that because her products involve “speech” and because she objects to marriage for same-sex couples on religious grounds, she has a right to discriminate. This is not the first time a business open to the public has sought to avoid an anti-discrimination law by invoking the First Amendment. According to court records, the photographer has never been forced to photograph a same-sex wedding.

As an organization that advocates for both First Amendment liberties as well as equal rights for LGBTQ people, the ACLU has a strong interest in the application of proper standards when evaluating constitutional challenges to civil rights laws.

The brief was filed in the Sixth Circuit for the United States Court of Appeals in Chelsey Nelson Photography LLC v. Louisville Metro Government. This follows two similar amicus briefs filed in response to the photographer’s challenge in the United States District Court for the Western District of Kentucky in January 2020 and October 2021

View the brief filed today in the PDF below.