A woman in North Carolina says her request for a vanity license plate honoring her wife was denied by the North Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) for being in “poor taste.”
Amy Bright recently spoke with WFMY News 2 in Greensboro about the controversy. Bright had applied–and paid–for a license plate reading, “LSBNSNLV” — “Lesbians in love.” The North Carolina DMV denied her application and refunded the fee paid, asserting that the state has the absolute right to reject license plates “offensive to good taste and decency.”
Bright is outraged about the decision and plans to appeal because her requested license plate doesn’t contain any curse words, hate speech or otherwise offensive material–and it’s also not so different from one of her prior license plates. She said:
I previously had a license plate that said “Out Lesbian” on it–OUTLSBN–and I had that plate for years. They have to show a compelling interest in denying it. And there is no compelling interest in denying the particular plate I’ve requested.
The North Carolina DMV went on to note that the U.S. Supreme Court has held that state-issued license plates–even personalized plates–qualify as government speech, therefore giving the state “broad discretion in refusing to issue a plate with an indecent word or message.”
The DMV appears to be referencing Walker v. Texas Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans, Inc., a 2015 case decided 5-4 by the Court’s liberals and conservative Justice Clarence Thomas. In this case, the nation’s high court determined that state-issued license plates are government speech–as opposed to a forum for private expression–and that since the public associates such plates with the state, Texas (and other states) retain direct control over the expression contained in state-issued plates.
An official with the DMV also noted that North Carolina has denied some 7,000-odd requests over the past few years.
Bright said she’ll sue the state if her appeal is denied–and blasted the decision as the likely result of an employee’s personal animus. She said, “I think that’s ridiculous. I’m trying to celebrate the love I have for my wife, so I don’t see how that’s in poor taste. How can a celebration of love be in poor taste?”
[Image via WFMY screengrab]