The U.S. Supreme Court confirmed today that it would hear a case involving a Christian bakery owner who refused to make a cake for a couple based on their sexual orientation.
In 2012, Lakewood, Co.-based Masterpiece Cakeshop’s owner Jack Phillips told customers David Mullins and Charlie Craig, who were to be wed, that he could not make their wedding cake. Despite Colorado’s anti-discrimination laws, which prohibit businesses from discriminating (barring, refusing service to, or otherwise not treating equally) based on a customer’s sexual orientation, Phillips refused to make Mullins and Craig’s cake because he does not support gay marriage. He went so far as to promise to close his bakery “before we would compromise our beliefs.”
At issue is a constitutional conundrum: Do anti-discrimination laws like Colorado’s violate First Amendment rights — which protect religious freedom — because they force business owners to engage in activity that breaks with their religious beliefs? The First Amendment reads, in part: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof...”
The couple’s attorney, James Esseks, told the New Yorker in an interview earlier this year that anti-discrimination laws “are not forcing you to say anything.” Esseks maintains that business owners can believe whatever they want to believe, and say whatever they want to say, including, for example, “‘I think gay people shouldn’t be able to get married. It’s a sin.’ You just can’t turn people away because of who they are.”
As the New York Times reported, Phillips argued in his defense that the religious protections in the First Amendment as well as protections for freedom of expression “overrode” Colorado’s anti-discrimination law. A 2015 Colorado appeals court disagreed, noting in its ruling that “Masterpiece does not convey a message supporting same-sex marriages merely by abiding by the law and serving its customers equally.” Further, the ruling clarified that “it is unlikely that the public would view Masterpiece’s creation of a cake for a same-sex wedding celebration as an endorsement of that conduct.”
Several similar cases have popped up in recent years, including one particularly memorable account of a pizzeria refusing to serve a gay couple in Indiana. The pizza parlor later inadvertently catered a gay wedding.
SCOTUS put off making a decision on whether to hear the case twice before. According to Reuters, the Supreme Court — which now has a 5-4 conservative majority — will hear this case in its next term in October.
• U.S. top court to hear baker's religious objection to making cake for gay couple [Reuters]
• Justices to Hear Case on Religious Objections to Same-Sex Marriage [NYT]
• Cake Shop Faces Legal Action For Refusing to Make Anti LGBT Cake [E]