Let Them Eat Cake!
Jack Phillips began his lifelong dream in 1993 when he opened a cake shop in Lakewood, Colorado. He built a wonderful reputation as a masterful baker, coinciding with the name of his establishment, Masterpiece Cakeshop. He is creative and skilled at making cakes for all occasions. That is, all occasions except gay weddings!
Charlie Craig and David Mullins were in love, and they decided to marry. They wanted only the best wedding cake with which to celebrate their union. Unfortunately, they went to Masterpiece Cakeshop. While the wedding was to take place in the state of Massachusetts, a celebration of their union would take place later in Colorado. Jack Phillips said no, he would not make a cake for them, as same-sex marriage was in opposition to his religious beliefs that marriage was only for heterosexual couples.
The state of Colorado had an anti-discrimination law that prohibited businesses open to the public from denying service to customers based on race, religion, gender or sexual orientation. The State Civil Rights Commission, later confirmed by the State Court of Appeals, found that Phillips had violated that law by refusing to bake a cake for Craig and Mullins. That has once again been appealed to the highest court. The U.S. Supreme Court has now agreed to hear the case this fall.
There are several similar lawsuits and rulings in other states that emulate the Colorado case. A bakery in Portland, Oregon, was ordered to pay $135,000 in damages to a gay couple for refusing them the same service. A photographer in New Mexico violated their anti-discrimination law by not taking pictures at a gay wedding. And a florist in Washington state has been found guilty of violating an anti-discrimination law by refusing to provide service to a gay couple.
These actions by sincere religious people have created a platform for proclaiming that one’s religious beliefs allow them to discriminate against those whose lifestyles are in opposition to their religious values. The free exercise of religion is now the banner under which these folks march. By forcing them to provide publicly available services to the LGBT community, they claim that their own religious beliefs are being restricted. But as sincere as their religious beliefs may be, they are sincerely wrong to refuse service to those whose lifestyles they do not approve or agree with. A company that serves the general public cannot make its own rules and prohibit some of the public from their services while providing other members of the public access to those same services.
Amanda Goad, staff attorney with the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Project, said, “While we all agree religious freedom is important, no one’s religious beliefs make it acceptable to break the law by discriminating against prospective customers. No one is asking [Phillips] to change his beliefs, but treating gay people differently because of who they are is discrimination plain and simple.” [ACLU Colorado website.]
Mario Nicolais, in an article in the June 30, 2017 Denver Post, laid out this issue in perfect prose. “In general, any business can refuse service to anyone for no reason. But it can’t refuse service for a bad reason...Like the vast majority of Christians who oppose marriage equality, I believe [Phillips] does so from a sincere and reflective understanding of his faith.... However, when speech moves outside the marketplace of ideas and into the marketplace of goods and services, it loses some constitutional protections. Consequently, when they subsequently run afoul of other constitutional principles, the First Amendment cannot be used as a shield. In Phillips’ case, his commercial speech must bend to accommodate the right to equality imbued in his customers.”
Interestingly enough, this case will define the tenure of the newest Supreme Court Justice, Neil Gorsuch. This case is from his home turf, and Gorsuch has a track record of siding with religious bodies, as he did in a lower court ruling in the Hobby Lobby lawsuit. That ruling by Gorsuch endorsed Hobby Lobby’s position that it did not have to provide contraception in its employee health insurance plan, as it was in opposition to the company’s corporate religious beliefs.
According to a recent Mother Jones article by Stephanie Mencimer, “Gorsuch wrote a separate concurrence in the Hobby Lobby case, in which he argued for an even broader ruling that would have allowed more parties to challenge the contraceptive mandate [in the Affordable Care Act] on religious grounds. He explained, ‘All of us must answer for ourselves whether and to what degree we are willing to be involved in the wrongdoing of others. For some, religion provides an essential source of guidance both about what constitutes wrongful conduct and the degree to which those who assist other in committing wrongful conduct themselves bear moral culpability.’”
David Mullins has said, “This has always been about more than a cake. Businesses should not be allowed to violate the law and discriminate against us because of who we are and who we love.” Charlie Craig follows up, “While we’re disappointed that the courts continue debating the simple question of whether LGBT people deserve to be treated like everyone else, we hope that our case helps ensure that no one has to experience being turned away simply because of who they are.”
I am just as alarmed and fearful as Mencimer expressed in her article that if Gorsuch considers homosexual behavior as “wrongful,” then this case will result in a ruling favoring Jack Phillips. If the U.S. Supreme Court rules in favor of Jack Phillips, and against Charlie Craig and David Mullins, then we will see—and experience—an incredible tidal wave of businesses across the country suddenly closing their doors and ending their services to the LGBT community. How will we be able to properly plan any vacation, if the fear of being denied lodging, meals, and other services looms before us around every corner? The consequences of such a ruling are not only difficult to define, they are even more difficult to predict. God help us. The Christian right certainly will not.