This week the Supreme Court agreed to hear an appeal from a Colorado-based baker who’d previously lost a discrimination case for refusing to make a wedding cake for a same-sex wedding. The baker, Jack Phillips, a Christian, claims the union is at odds with his religious beliefs and argues it is his American right to refuse a customer service.
After five long years of legal discourse and plenty of media coverage, the tiered confection now serves as an inadvertant symbol of the complexities surrounding discrimination and religious freedom laws in the courts. The case, Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, will be settled once and for all next year.
On one side, gay and lesbian couples (and the anti-discrimination law in Colorado) argue that a business that’s open to the public must treat the public—gay, straight, trans, black, blue, etc.—equally. On the other side, those who subscribe to some religions argue that the government forcing business owners to serve gay couples against their religious beliefs violates freedom of religion.
Phillips mentions he’s turned down about “five or six” same-sex couples’ cake requests in the past, but this time around, the couple filed discrimination charges and won. “Masterpiece does not convey a message supporting same-sex marriages merely by abiding by the law and serving its customers equally,” the court ruled in 2015.
Phillips argues that two areas of the First Amendment—religious freedom and freedom of expression—should override Colorado’s anti-discrimination law and allow him to refuse services that conflict with his religion. He believes the law is forcing his hand, deeming it okay to endorse a view he doesn’t personally think is acceptable. Many religious activists believe a baker’s work should be constituted as “artistic expression.”
“Every American should be free to choose which art they will create and which art they won’t create without fear of being unjustly punished by the government,” David Cortman, one of Mr. Phillips’s lawyers, said. Court documents have recorded Philipps saying he’s more than willing to create other goods for gay clients, but wedding cakes is where he draws the line. Phillips also doesn’t create adult- or Halloween-theme cakes, for similar reasons.
The decision will come down to whether Supreme Court Justices believe forcing businesses to comply with anti-discrimination laws trumps their “freedom of religion,” protected under the First Amendment. “This has always been about more than a cake,” Mullins said. “Businesses should not be allowed to violate the law and discriminate against us because of who we are and who we love.”