OAKLAND – California Attorney General Rob Bonta today joined a coalition of 20 attorneys general to file an amicus brief before the United States Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals to defend the Virginia public housing in Updegrove v. Herring. The case concerns a photographer who, although he was never invited to photograph a same-sex marriage, seeks to strike down the Virginia Values Act – a law on public housing – in order to refuse wedding photography services same-sex couples and publish a statement on its website announcing its desire to deny such services to same-sex couples. In the friend of the court’s brief, the coalition urges the court to grant Virginia’s request to affirm the district court’s dismissal of the case and deny the appellants’ efforts to block the law on public housing.
“Discrimination is discrimination, however you present it” said Attorney General Bonta. “And, the point is, the LGBTQ community has been forced to deal with it for too long. Public housing laws aim to mitigate this injustice by defending and upholding the basic human right to equality. California will not stand idly by as these historic laws and our communities come under attack again and again. We urge the court to affirm the rejection of this latest attempt to undermine our laws. “
Public housing laws, like those in California and Virginia, aim to protect the rights of all residents of the state, especially members of disadvantaged groups, from economic, personal, and social harm caused by discrimination. These laws have long been considered constitutional and prohibit discrimination in business establishments on the basis of specified and protected characteristics such as race, sex, national origin and sexual orientation. A ruling in favor of the plaintiff in this case could undermine the rights of LGBTQ Americans nationwide and pave the way for further challenges to laws that prevent companies from discriminating on the basis of protected and enduring characteristics.
In the friend of the court’s brief, the coalition states, among other things, that:
- States prohibit discrimination against LGBTQ people in public facilities to prevent serious economic, personal and social harm;
- The First Amendment does not exempt businesses open to the public from state anti-discrimination laws;
- Prohibiting companies from discriminating against customers does not impose a voice;
- Public housing laws like Virginia’s pass any level of constitutional scrutiny;
- States have a compelling interest in eliminating discrimination based on sexual orientation in public places; and
- An exemption from the First Amendment to public housing laws of the type the appellants seek would significantly undermine anti-discrimination laws.
In filing the amicus brief, Attorney General Bonta joins the Attorneys General of Massachusetts, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, from New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and the District of Columbia.
A copy of the amicus brief is available here.