LGBTQIA+ Public Accommodation Cases: The Battle Between Religious Freedom and Civil Rights

By Jamie Reinah

Protections for LGBTQIA+ Americans have greatly expanded since the U.S. Supreme Court recognized marriage equality in Obergefell v. Hodges, but the debate about whether business owners can refuse to serve LGBTQIA+ couples on religious grounds has grown more bitterly divided.  The free exercise of religion is a fundamental constitutional right, and it is strongly protected at both the federal and state levels.  At the same time, LGBTQIA+ couples are protected from receiving unequal treatment in public places under state antidiscrimination laws.

The clash between religion and LGBTQIA+ rights has culminated in a line of cases that present difficult questions for courts concerning the balance between these competing interests.  This Note discusses the battle being waged between liberty and equality in these cases and argues that the current legal doctrine exacerbates this inherent conflict.  Ultimately, this Note proposes a more streamlined test that state courts can utilize when balancing business owners’ religious liberty interests against the state’s interests in ensuring equality for LGBTQIA+ Americans.