Supreme Court sides with baker in same-sex wedding cake case
The Supreme Court sided with the Colorado baker who refused to bake a custom cake for a same-sex marriage in a restrictive ruling on Monday.
In a 7-2 decision written by Judge Anthony Kennedy, the court said the Colorado Civil Rights Commission violated the Constitution’s free exercise clause when it ruled that Jack Phillips violated the Public Housing Act of the state by refusing to bake a couple a personalized cake even though it morally and religiously opposes same-sex marriage.
In its majority decision, the court said that the laws and the Constitution can, and in some cases should, protect gay men and couples in the exercise of their civil rights, but religious and philosophical objections to same-sex marriage are opinions protected and, in some cases, the authorities protected the forms of expression.
The court said Colorado law can protect gay people from discrimination by businesses open to the public, but the law must be applied in a religiously neutral manner.
Since the court based its ruling on the state commission’s treatment of Phillips, the ruling did not provide the landslide victory for religious rights that some of Phillips’ supporters hoped to see. Phillips originally asked the court to rule that wedding cakes are an artistic expression of First Amendment word and religion, but the court didn’t go that far.
Kennedy specifically noted a judicial precedent, writing that states are well within their power to adopt anti-discrimination measures in public housing laws when the legislature believes a particular group is the target of discrimination.
But he said the commission showed clear and unacceptable hostility to the sincere religious beliefs motivating Phillips’ objections to the custom cake making when it heard the dispute in 2014.
Kennedy said a panel commissioner at a public hearing denigrated Phillips’ faith as “despicable” and another member compared his sincere religious beliefs to the defenses of slavery and the Holocaust.
“This sentiment is inappropriate for a commission charged with the solemn responsibility for the fair and neutral application of Colorado’s anti-discrimination law – a law that protects discrimination on the basis of religion as well as sexual orientation,” Kennedy wrote.
If a member of the clergy refused to perform a same-sex marriage, Kennedy said it would be understood as a protected exercise of religion “that a homosexual person could recognize and accept without undermining their own dignity and worth.”
But, he said, “if this exception were not limited, a long list of people who provide goods and services for weddings and marriages might refuse to do so for homosexuals, thus leading to stigma. at the community level incompatible with the history and dynamics of civil rights laws that guarantee equal access to goods, services and public housing.
Any decision in favor of the baker, he said, would have to be forced, otherwise all business owners who oppose same-sex marriages on moral or religious grounds would be allowed to refuse their services.
Kennedy was joined by judges from across the spectrum, including Chief Justice John Roberts, fellow Conservative Justices Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch, and Liberal Justices Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan.
Liberal Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote a dissenting opinion, joined by fellow Liberal Judge Sonia Sotomayor.
Ginsburg said comments from one or two members of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission did not support overturning the lower court decision on the side of the couple, Charlie Craig and David Mullins.
“Whatever one might think of the statements in the historical context, I see no reason why the comments of one or two commissioners should be taken to overcome Phillips’ refusal to sell a wedding cake to Craig and Mullins.” , she wrote.
Conservative Judge Clarence Thomas argued in a concurring opinion that a wedding cake is an expressive form of speech that should be protected by the First Amendment and which the Colorado Court of Appeal erred in concluding otherwise.
He said he warned his colleagues when they legalized same-sex marriage in Obergefell v. Hodges of 2015 that the ruling would inevitably come into conflict with religious freedom.
“This case proves that the conflict has already erupted,” Thomas wrote.
“Because the court ruling vindicates Phillips’ right to free exercise, it appears religious freedom lived to fight another day. But, in future cases, freedom of speech could be key to preventing Obergefell from being used to “wipe out any vestige of dissent” and “vilify Americans who do not want to endorse the New Orthodoxy,” “he said. -he writes.
The narrow decision appeased some critics of the decision.
“I think the bakery got a free jail release card today because of what the court deemed misconduct by the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, but that doesn’t mean it will be able to discriminate in the future. Not at all, ”James Esseks, director of the LGBT & HIV project at the American Civil Liberties Union, who represented the couple, told reporters.
Esseks said he viewed the court’s decision as limited to this specific case.
“If a new same-sex couple are embarking on this business, I see no reason in this opinion that Masterpiece Cakeshop is free to refuse them,” he said.
The commission had ordered Phillips to bake cakes for other same-sex marriages, educate his staff about the state’s civil rights laws, and file quarterly compliance reports with the commission for two years.
His attorney, Alliance Defending Freedom lead attorney Kristen Wagoner, argued that Phillips lost 40% of his business and most of his staff for standing up for what he believed.
Wagoner read the court ruling as going beyond opposing groups.
“It’s a 7 to 2 decision. It’s a broad decision and the court has been very clear on several occasions in its decision that the government was wrong to punish Jack and could not express its hostility towards the people of. faith, ”she said.
“In fact, this hostility was so obvious that the court simply overturned that decision. “
Wagoner said the question of which services constitute religious expression protected under the First Amendment will reach the court in the future.
In fact, the Supreme Court already has a case pending.
Last July, a Washington state flower shop owner appealed to the High Court after the Washington Supreme Court ruled that she violated state anti-discrimination law by denying to create personalized flower arrangements for the same-sex marriage of a long-time client. Barronelle Stutzman, owner of Arlene’s Flowers Inc., says her arrangements are an artistic expression protected by the First Amendment.
Forensic observers say the court could use the case to squarely resolve allegations of religious freedom and anti-discrimination raised in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case. The case was re-listed for discussion at the next court conference on Thursday.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calf.) Said she would call for legislation to protect gay rights in response to Monday’s ruling.
“The Masterpiece Cakeshop case is about the most basic right of all Americans: to be free from persecution and discrimination because of who they are or who they love. Although it is tightly framed to apply to the decision-making process undertaken by the state commission, today’s erroneous ruling does not respect equality in this case, ”she wrote in a statement. .
Gregory Angelo, chairman of Log Cabin Republicans, a prominent right-wing LGBT group, said the court ruling highlighted the glaring absence of federal legislation against LGBT discrimination.
“The fact that the judges appointed by Presidents Clinton and Obama have sided with Masterpiece Cakeshop should be an indication that there are more nuances in this decision than it seems,” he said. stated in a press release.
Craig and Mullins, the couple in the case, said the move meant their fight against discrimination would continue.
“We’ve always believed that in America you shouldn’t shy away from a business that’s open to the public because of who you are,” they said. “We brought this case because no one should have to face the shame, embarrassment and humiliation of being told ‘we don’t serve your kind here’ that we have been faced with, and we will keep fighting until no one else does. ”
Updated at 4:08 p.m.