Supreme Court rules in favor of Colorado baker who refused same-sex couple a wedding cake

Citing religious reasons, the Colorado baker refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple. What comes next?

By Shira Tarlo

Published June 4, 2018 10:33AM (EDT)

 (Getty/Phillip Nelson)
(Getty/Phillip Nelson)

This is a breaking news story. It will be updated.

On the fourth day of Pride Month, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of a Colorado baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple, citing religious reasons.

The ruling was 7-2.

The court held that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission showed hostility toward the baker based on his religious beliefs. In doing so, it violated his religious rights under the First Amendment of the Constitution.

While the ruling delivered a win for baker Jack Phillips, it leaves unsettled the broader constitutional questions presented by the case, as it did not issue a definitive ruling on the circumstances under which people can seek exemptions from anti-discrimination laws based on their religious views.

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, writing for the majority in the 7-2 decision, said that while it is unexceptional that Colorado law "can protect gay persons in acquiring products and services on the same terms and conditions that are offered to other members of the public, the law must be applied in a manner that is neutral toward religion."

The justice relied on narrow grounds, saying that members of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission had violated the Constitution's protection of religious freedom. He pointed to the commission's decision allowing a different baker to refuse to put an anti-gay message on a cake.

Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor dissented. Two of the court's four liberals, Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan, joined the court's most conservative justices, including Chief Justice John Roberts, in the ruling authored by Justice Kennedy.

"The commission's hostility was inconsistent with the First Amendment's guarantee that our laws be applied in a manner that is neutral toward religion," Kennedy wrote, referring to the First Amendment of the Constitution.

"The outcome of cases like this in other circumstances must await further elaboration in the courts, all in the context of recognizing that these disputes must be resolved with tolerance, without undue disrespect to sincere religious beliefs, and without subjecting gay persons to indignities when they seek goods and services in an open market," Kennedy said.

The case, Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, No.16-111, was one of the most-closely watched cases before the high court. It was considered by some as a follow-up to the court's decision two years ago to guarantee a right to same-sex marriage nationwide. President Donald Trump's administration intervened in the case in support of the baker.

The case began when Charlie Craig and David Mullins visited Jack Phillip's bakery, Masterpiece Cakeshop, in Lakewood, Colorado. The two men were going to be married in Massachusetts, and they were looking for a wedding cake for a reception in Colorado. Their wedding planner referred them to Phillips.

When Mullins, along with Craig and his mother, arrived at the bakery, Phillips greeted them politely. But, when he realized who the wedding cake was for, he knew this was "not a cake that I can make." He informed the couple that he did not make cakes for same-sex weddings.

Phillips believes that same-sex marriages are sinful and that marriage is to be between a man and a woman. "I don't believe that Jesus would have made a cake if he had been a baker," he said on ABC's "The View."

"I'm not judging these two gay men," he continued, "I'm just trying to preserve my right as an artist to decide which artistic endeavors I'm going to do and which ones I'm not."

That, however, was not how Craig felt. "Man, it was just really humiliating," he said, adding that he was especially embarrassed for this to have happened in front of his mother.

As the couple later learned, Colorado, like 21 other states, has anti-discrimination laws governing businesses. Colorado prohibits discrimination based on race, religion, gender and sexual orientation. The couple filed a complaint with the State Commission on Civil Rights, which ruled in their favor, as did the state's highest court. The baker then appealed the ruling all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

In a statement Monday, the ACLU said, "The Supreme Court today reaffirmed the core principle that businesses open to the public must be open to all . . . The court did not accept arguments that would have turned back the clock on equality by making our basic civil rights protections unenforceable, but reversed this case based on concerns specific to the facts here."


Shira Tarlo

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