A Case About Nothing

A Colorado website designer picks a fight with people she's never met, objecting to a nonexistent wedding. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

A Case About Nothing

Hey Daniel, What's the deal with this Colorado website maker's supreme court case? It really has befuddled me, and it seems like it may befuddle the Supreme Court as well. Since you are a marketing guy, I'm wondering what you think. Does her case have merit?

Sincerely, Cakelessly Coupled in Colorado


Well Cakelessly, this is an excellent question. I've thought about this more than you know, and I'm on no sleep. No sleep.

For those who aren't following, a web designer in Colorado is trying to use the ole "It's not you, it's me" when it comes to providing websites for same-sex weddings, and the case has reached the Supreme Court. You can read about it here.

As you may know, I've been a marketing consultant and website builder for almost two decades, and I once read a book with a forward written by a lawyer so I'm pretty much the perfect person to ask about any Supreme Court case on the subject.

The Supremes have been tapped before concerning a Colorado law intended to protect people from discrimination on the basis of their sexual preferences. Consider the Gay Wedding Cake case of 2018. The case brought up countless challenging questions, like does one's professional service equal first amendment speech? Are corporations people? Are cakes afforded first amendment rights? And we may be asking similar questions about websites. Cake, that’s meaningless, I can understand that, but websites, that’s heavy.

I may be a website guy, but I am not a cake guy personally. I once told a woman I don't eat cake because it goes straight to my thighs. But to answer your question about building custom websites and the matter of free speech, I have to go back in time to the broader themes of my life's work.

I've spent the majority of my life dedicated to basically nothing. I don't mean not dedicated to anything. I mean affirmatively, nothing. As a kid, I would spend countless hours doing literally nothing, in part because, kids can only really do things that their parents pay for. This afforded me a lot of time to think, which doesn't get expensive until later in life. For the most part, my conversations were more or less about nothing as well. It became my preference. In some cases, I would fake my way through real conversations, because sometimes it's enough already and I just want to get some sleep.

Even holidays were a chance to talk about as little as possible. Although traditionally we would gather around to tell each other all the ways we have disappointed each other over the past year, if I could help it, we would keep the conversation as meaningless as possible.

In 1989 my life was changed because nothing became the subject of an entire TV show. It was incredible. This treasure of the silver screen validated me. Literally, everything became worthy of a conversation. Unlike Twitter, NBC, with the Must See TV line up figured out how to monetize my entire life. Then, life became about one thing. Nothing. But in a good way. Commenting on literally anything, without any central point or substance had become the meaning of life.

I saw this fact as an opportunity worthy of my attention. Sponge worthy, if you will. But as much as I tried to lean into it, my journey through life lead me to other places, and doing nothing didn't pan out quite how I had hoped. I realized there’s more to life than making shallow, fairly obvious observations. I determined that if every instinct I've had is wrong, then the opposite would have to be right.

So I got into marketing, which, it turns out, is essentially the same thing. Taking nothing and making an entire story about it, complete with a value proposition, reasons to believe, and a call to action (known as a CTAs in the industry). The trick to a successful career in marketing is to be annoyed as much as possible because when you look annoyed all the time, people think that you’re busy. It's a rewarding field, because where else can you sell something you don't actually believe exists (and in the case of some tech startups, actually doesn't)?

Another marketing person and the Supreme Court are getting involved in nothing as well. In fact, they're literally talking about nothing. Lorie Smith, who owns 303 Creative in Colorado is presenting to the courts her objections to a Colorado law that protects people, including gay people, from being discriminated against on the basis of their sexual orientation.

Smith has never been asked by any customer to create any websites for any weddings, ever, much less a gay one. Not that there's anything wrong with that. But the Supreme Court is hearing her case against ever doing it anyway. She hasn't launched the service yet, and, to be fair, is at this point fairly well marketed as an unlikely choice for gay people seeking websites or other design services for any reason.

Getting clients that you like is hard enough. Getting them to like you, well that's even harder. Countless times, I've met with a client, we ordered a coffee, we talk about pricing, and yada yada yada, I never heard from him again.

Traditionally, you have to appeal to the client in some way. Whether it's the working relationship, the specialized expertise, or company values. It's fairly common that when a would-be client considers you a bigot, they don't hire you. It's much less common for someone seeking a website, customized to their needs and specially provided for their very important day, to hire you under duress just to prove a point. At least, not unless they are as shallow and vindictive as Lorie Smith herself.

Generally speaking, people don’t turn down money. It’s what separates us from the animals. But I can understand why Lorie Smith would want to avoid providing services promoting something in conflict with her values. Lorie is defending herself from a client that doesn't exist, to create zero websites for a wedding that is not happening. And in defense of her rights, she is bringing her case all the way to the Supreme Court, instead of simply saying "I'm not the one going to hell."

When you create a website for a client, you start with their goals, collect their content, design to their creative preferences, and put their name on it. It's their voice, their brand, their story. How many websites have I made that contained something I disagreed with? All of them.

Like an old man trying to send soup back in a deli, Lorie Smith is angry. Angry that she might have a customer ask her to provide consulting based on their own specifications – standard procedure in the design business. She's angry that she'll one day she'll be asked to an appointment and the customers will show up. I don’t think I’ve ever been to an appointment in my life where I wanted the other guy to show up. I’m much more comfortable criticizing people behind their backs.

But Lorie Smith on the other hand. She wants to criticize as many people as possible to avoid the risk that someone might insist she get paid to create a website. Serenity now.

LGBTQ people have endured more than their fair share of discrimination. And now Lorie Smith is the plaintiff in a case about nothing, so she can torment them even more.

...that's a shame.


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