Jack Phillips

AP Photo/Brennan Linsley, File

SCOTUS Rules In Favor Of Baker Who Refused To Bake Wedding Cake For Same-Sex Couple

June 04, 2018 - 10:32 am
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WASHINGTON (WCBS 880/CBS News/AP) -- The Supreme Court ruled narrowly Monday for a Colorado baker who wouldn't make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple. But the court is not deciding the big issue in the case, whether a business can invoke religious objections to refuse service to gay and lesbian people.

Link: Read The Full Opinion
 
The justices' limited ruling Monday turns on what the court described as anti-religious bias on the Colorado Civil Rights Commission when it ruled against baker Jack Phillips. The justices voted 7-2 that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission violated the Christian baker's rights under the First Amendment.

The ruling appears to be narrow in scope, however, concerned more with the Commission's treatment of the case than its effects on future similar cases, CBS News' Steve Dorsey reported.
 
Justice Anthony Kennedy says in his majority opinion that the issue "must await further elaboration.''

“The Supreme Court dodged the larger question, which is the extent to which private businesses can discriminate against gay couples who are planning weddings,” CBS News Correspondent Paula Reid told WCBS 880’s Michael Wallace Monday, “and this case was really seen as the sequel to the blockbuster Supreme Court case a few years ago, where they ruled that gay marriage is marriage. Within hours of that decision, conservative groups – and some religious right organizations – started to look for other cases that could sort of test the boundaries for that decision, and this cake case, in addition to some other cases having to do with other wedding vendors, are making their way through the courts.”

Appeals in similar cases are pending, including one at the Supreme Court from a florist who didn't want to provide flowers for a same-sex wedding.

The same-sex couple at the heart of the case, Charlie Craig and Dave Mullins, complained to the Colorado commission in 2012 after they visited Phillips' Masterpiece Cakeshop in suburban Denver and the baker quickly told them he would not create a cake for a same-sex wedding.

Colorado law prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and the commission concluded that Phillips' refusal violated the law. Colorado state courts upheld the determination.

But when the justices heard arguments in December, Kennedy was plainly bothered by comments by a commission member. The commissioner seemed "neither tolerant nor respectful of Mr. Phillips' religious beliefs," Kennedy said in December.

That same sentiment suffused his opinion on Monday. "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," he wrote.

“The caution here that they’re sending to the state is that you have to be careful in terms of how you assess discrimination,” Reid said. “You can’t try to protect your gay residents on the one hand; on the other, discriminate against someone, in this case the baker, for his religious beliefs.”

Liberal justices Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan joined the conservative justices in the outcome. Kagan wrote separately to emphasize the limited ruling.

Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor dissented.

In a statement issued after the ruling Monday, Phillips' Supreme Court lawyer praised the decision.

Senior Counsel Kristen Waggoner of the Alliance Defending Freedom said in the statement, "Jack serves all customers; he simply declines to express messages or celebrate events that violate his deeply held beliefs."

Waggoner added, "Creative professionals who serve all people should be free to create art consistent with their convictions without the threat of government punishment. Government hostility toward people of faith has no place in our society, yet the state of Colorado was openly antagonistic toward Jack's religious beliefs about marriage. The court was right to condemn that. Tolerance and respect for good-faith differences of opinion are essential in a society like ours. This decision makes clear that the government must respect Jack's beliefs about marriage."

The American Civil Liberties Union, which represented the couple in its legal fight, said it was pleased the court did not endorse a broad religion-based exemption from anti-discrimination laws.

"The court reversed the Masterpiece Cakeshop decision based on concerns unique to the case but reaffirmed its longstanding rule that states can prevent the harms of discrimination in the marketplace, including against LGBT people." said Louise Melling, the ACLU's deputy legal director.

As WCBS 880’s Kevin Rincon reported, Lambda Legal chief executive officer Rachel Tiven also expressed concern that the ruling could end up undermining gay rights.

“When you open a business, you can decide what to sell and you can decide how to sell it. You can say, ‘No shirt, no shoes, no service,’” Tiven said. “But you can’t say, ‘No shirt, no shoes, no lesbians.’”

Tiven called the Supreme Court ruling disappointing.

“If what the Supreme Court had a problem with was the conduct of the Colorado commission, they should have remanded the case for new proceedings under that commission,” Tiven said. “The fact that they didn’t really is evidence that what’s happening here is an invitation to undermine marriage equality.”

Tiven is not the only one concerned. New York State Attorney General Barbara Underwood said there is no place for discrimination in New York and called the decision very narrow.

Jonathan Lovitz, senior vice president of the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, told WCBS 880’s Mack Rosenberg that even though the ruling was narrow in scope, it could end up being abused.

“What concerns us most is how this will be misinterpreted by those across the country, and applied as a license to discriminate that simply does not exist. The most vulnerable LGBT people out there – particularly those in the Deep South or those with unequal economic access to legal protections are going to find themselves face-to-face with what is perceived to be state-sanctioned discrimination that is not real, but without the ability to fight back against it,” he said.

Lovitz did not agree that Phillips’ First Amendment rights were violated, and argued that a business that uses public accommodations must welcome everyone.

“It’s a simple, fundamental part of the American economic system that if you’re open for business and utilize public accommodation – roads, and access to water and fire and police protections, then you need to be open to business with all, because it is all of our tax dollars that go into the system that ensure the economy is fair and open,” he said. “So putting your religious animus to use is not a First Amendment violation. It’s blatant discrimination, and it will not hold up in courts when this continues to advance through the system.”

He added that while everyone is entitled to their personal beliefs, business owners “cannot apply them to the marketplace and expect yourself or your company to be fairly treated.

“And there’s a tremendous opportunity, especially as we enter this Pride season, for companies to get it right by advertising that they are open for all and welcoming to the diversity of our country,” Lovitz said.

Several legal disputes are pending over wedding services, similar to the Phillips case. Video producers, graphic artists and florists are among business owners who say they oppose same-sex marriage on religious grounds and don't want to participate in same-sex weddings.

Barronelle Stutzman, a florist in Richland, Washington, has appealed a state Supreme Court ruling that found she violated state law for refusing to provide the wedding flowers for two men who were about to be married.

The justices could decide what to do with that appeal by the end of June.

(© 2018 WCBS 880. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)