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Opinion

More Than a Piece of Cake

In an absolutely shocking decision today, the Supreme Court has ruled in favor (in an overwhelming 7-2 decision) of a Colorado baker who refused to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding due to the baker’s personal religious objection. The case, which has been winding through appeals courts since 2012 when gay couple Charlie Craig and David Mullins launched the suit, has sparked countless debate on the constitutional implications of "religious liberty."

"Today's decision is remarkably narrow, and leaves for another day virtually all of the major constitutional questions that this case presented," University of Texas law professor Steve Vladeck told CNN Monday. "It's hard to see the decision setting a precedent."

While the SCOTUS decision hinges on the idea that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission was too hostile to baker Jack Philips, citing his right to practice his religion under the Constitution, what the ruling could mean is that discrimination based on anyone’s personal beliefs supersedes the right to equality—an absolutely dangerous precedent regardless of what Vladeck may feel.

According to the ACLU, the First Amendment’s right to religious freedom was set to keep the government out of all religions, separating the church and state. And while SCOTUS said in its statement that the ruling was based on the Colorado Civil Rights Commission’s supposed anti-religious bias, the ruling sends a clear message that this isn’t about a cake, it’s about setting back the clock on the rights of same-sex families hoping to be treated equally under the law.

And while it’s very easy for many of us to say, “it’s just a cake, you should just go elsewhere,” historically speaking, the denial of services to black, queer, disabled and religious minorities in the U.S. has been used to keep these marginalized citizens and others out of jobs, homes and the public sphere in general. 
The ruling sends a clear message that this isn’t about a cake, it’s about setting back the clock on the rights of same-sex families hoping to be treated equally under the law.
In the Jim Crow South, black Americans were refused vanilla ice cream. Not by law, but by an unspoken rule that stated that freed slaves could only enjoy vanilla ice cream on the Fourth of July—possibly as a way to placate or to remind black folks of their strata in American society. Regardless of the reasoning behind it, this  rule was a way to remind black folks that they were, in fact, second-class citizens in the Southern U.S. in particular. And denying a queer couple a cake, even outside of legal ramifications does the exact same thing.

The GI Bill also further reminded black Americans that their worth was less than that of their white counterparts. The GI Bill was designed to help those returning from the World War II go to college, buy homes and thrive in the new U.S. economy, but it specifically denied these rights to black veterans. The denial of black rights within the GI Bill is still felt to this day by thousands of black families.

While it’s easy to say, “it’s just a cake,” time and time again, we can see that it’s more than just that. It’s an ice cream cone. It’s a denial of water at a fountain. It’s refusing a bank loan. It’s refusing to rent an apartment to a family because of its gender makeup. It is one piece of a puzzle designed to withhold equality to people while dangling freedom in front of their eyes. And regardless of your religion, you should be able to see how morally wrong it is to deny another human their basic rights. Even if it’s on the end of a cake slice.

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