In a turn of events that can’t be considered anything other than unsurprising given the current hostile political climate to LGBTQ civil rights in the United States, the Supreme Court today ruled 7-2 in favor of Masterpiece Cakeshop, the Colorado bakery that refused to prepare a cake for a same-sex wedding.
The ruling did not give grounds for sweeping interpretation, however, as many feared; instead, Justice Anthony Kennedy’s majority opinion turned on the idea that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, who brought the suit, showed animosity toward Masterpiece Cakeshop owner Jack Phillips, a devout Christian, when they suggested that his invocation of religious freedom was just a cover to justify discrimination.
The ruling attempts to walk a tightrope between validating religious objections to gay marriage, which it calls “protected views and in some instances protected forms of expression,” and the exercise of civil rights by LGBTQ people. “While it is unexceptional that Colorado law can protect gay persons in acquiring products and services on the same terms and conditions as are offered to other members of the public, the law must be applied in a manner that is neutral toward religion,” the ruling states.
The decision ultimately seems to hinge on the bizarre point that a wedding cake is an artistic expression, and you can’t require someone to utilize their creativity in service of something they disagree with. Whether this point is really valid in the long run will doubtless remain up for debate, but it does make it much harder for the Masterpiece Cakeshop ruling to be used as precedent in other “religious freedom” cases around refusal of service to LGBTQ people, most of which are unlikely to contain an artistic or creative angle. –Marilyn Drew Necci
Original article from 9/12/17, by Nidhi Sharma, follows:
The Department of Justice filed a brief on Thursday, siding with Jack Phillips, a Colorado baker who denied services to a gay couple looking for a wedding cake for their Massachusetts reception, according to The Washington Post.
In a case that dates back to 2012, Charlie Craig and David Mullins initially filed a discrimination suit against Masterpiece Cake shop with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union and won. The couple then won again after Phillips filed an appeal in the Colorado appeals court in 2015.
In June, the US Supreme Court agreed to hear their case, Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights, Commission, after Phillips filed a petition. The Colorado baker says he has the right to refuse service based on his religious belief, stating his religious freedom should override Colorado’s anti-discrimination law.
And the government agrees.
“Forcing Phillips to create expression for and participate in a ceremony that violates his sincerely held religious beliefs invades his First Amendment rights,” Jeffrey B. Wall, the acting solicitor general, wrote in the brief.
The administration supported Phillips’ claim that baking cakes are a form of self-expression, and therefore cannot be encroached upon — even if it means denying services on the basis of sexuality.
“A custom wedding cake can be sufficiently artistic to qualify as pure speech, akin to a sculptural centerpiece,” the brief stated. “In short, a custom wedding cake is not an ordinary baked good; its function is more communicative and artistic than utilitarian.”
This isn’t the first time a case like this has been taken to court. In 2013, the owner of Arlene’s Flowers and Gifts in Washington refused to sell flowers to the couple for their wedding — on account of “her relationship with Jesus Christ.”
And it’s another move from President Trump’s administration that has alienated the LGBTQ community since the start of his term, including his controversial ban on transgender individuals from serving in the military.
On top of public doubt concerning Trump’s LGBTQ support, the president also targeted LGBTQ federal employees when he updated the Commerce Department’s policy statement on Equal Employment Opportunity, omitting sexual identity and gender identity from the list of protected classes.
Louise Melling, deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, released the following statement regarding the case:
“This Justice Department has already made its hostility to the rights of LGBT people and so many others crystal clear. But this brief was shocking, even for this administration. What the Trump Administration is advocating for is nothing short of a constitutional right to discriminate. We are confident that the Supreme Court will rule on the side of equal rights just as the lower courts have.”
The case is set to be one of the biggest cases of the Supreme Court’s upcoming term, which begins Oct. 2.