High Court Takes Up LGBT Wedding Cake Battle

WASHINGTON (CN) – A Colorado baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a gay couple because of his religious beliefs will fight discrimination claims before the Supreme Court next term, the justices said Monday.

When the Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, Colorado refused to make a wedding cake for Charlie Craig and David Mullins in 2012, owner Jack Phillips said it would violate his Christian beliefs.

Phillips believes that decorating cakes is an art through which he honors God, and thus it would upset God to create cakes in celebration of marriages between same-sex couples.

Craig and Mullins filed a complaint with the Office of Administrative Courts, which found in favor of the couple. The Colorado Civil Rights Commission also found that Phillips violated state anti-discrimination laws and ordered him to change his policy against making wedding cakes for same-sex couples or be subject to fines.

Hoping to overturn the commission’s findings, Masterpiece Cakeshop tried to distinguish the opposition of same-sex marriage from discriminating against sexual orientation.

The Colorado Court of Appeals shut down this argument 3-0 in 2015, however, and the state’s highest court refused a year later to take up the case.

On Monday, the Supreme Court granted Masterpiece’s ensuing petition for certiorari.

Per the court’s custom, the order does not include any statement on the case. The justices did grant a motion of Foundation for Moral Law to file an amicus brief. 

The Center for Inquiry, a secular-humanist group that plans to participate in the case an amicus curiae, called on the court not to exempt discrimination from civil-rights laws.

“This baker has the right to hold negative opinions about gays and lesbians; he has the right to believe they are damned to Hell,” Robyn Blumner, president and CEO of the center, said in a statement. “What he does not have is the right to refuse them service at his business.”

The conservative policy group Liberty Counsel meanwhile emphasized that there is no federal law that requires businesses to serve all customers regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.  

“Now that the Supreme Court has agreed to hear the Masterpiece Cakeshop case, this ruling could have a significant impact throughout the country regarding businesses being forced to go against the owner’s sincerely held religious beliefs,” Liberty Counsel founder and chairman Matt Staver said in a statement. “People’s livelihoods should not be put in jeopardy in order to advance the LGBT agenda. Artists speak through their art, and when Jack Phillips creates custom wedding cakes, he is promoting and celebrating the couple’s wedding. He should not be forced to promote a message that conflicts with his religious beliefs.”

LGBT customers are at issue here, but the Center for Inquiry notes that black, Mexican, Japanese and Chinese Americans have been fighting similar practices for decades.

“For instance, in 1963, a Florida religious leader objected to civil rights laws in a meeting with President John F. Kennedy, claiming that ‘segregation is a principle of the Old Testament,’” the group said in a statement. “Federal and state public accommodation laws rid the country of this noxious practice of exclusion.”

The center’s Little warned that giving the baker an exemption to civil rights laws will open “the floodgates of discrimination.”

“Today it is the same-sex couple seeking a wedding cake; tomorrow it could just as easily be women seeking contraception, or African Americans seeking a meal at a lunch counter,” Little added. “This so-called ‘right’ to discriminate based on religion cannot be cabined, and threatens to turn America back to the dark days of legally justifiable segregation.”

When the cake shop lost its appeal in 2015, a staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union’s LGBT Project emphasized in a statement that no U.S. citizen “should be turned away from a shop or restaurant because of who they are or who they love.”

“When every lesbian or gay person, every woman, every person of color, every person of every faith can walk into a store, a bank, a hospital, and know that they will get the same service as everyone else, we will have won. Until then, we continue to fight for the equal treatment we all deserve,” the ACLU’s Ria Mar added.

The appeals court refused to place much stock in the fact that Phillips’ religious opposition to same-sex marriage has not stopped him from making other baked goods for gay or lesbian customers.

“We reject Masterpiece’s related argument that its willingness to sell birthday cakes, cookies, and other non-wedding cake products to gay and lesbian customers establishes that it did not violate CADA,” Judge Daniel Taubman wrote for the court, abbreviating the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act. “Masterpiece’s potential compliance with CADA in this respect does not permit it to refuse services to Craig and Mullins that it otherwise offers to the general public.”

Jeremy Tedesco, senior legal counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, focused at the time on religious freedom.

“Government has a duty to protect people’s freedom to follow their beliefs personally and professionally rather than force them to adopt the government’s views,” Tedesco said in a statement. “Jack simply exercised the long-cherished American freedom to decline to use his artistic talents to promote a message with which he disagrees. The court is wrong to deny Jack his fundamental freedoms.”

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