Supreme Court: Gay couple in same-sex wedding cake case take solace in ruling’s narrow scope

David Mullins (left) and Larry Craig at their 2012 wedding. (Photo courtesy of David Mullins and Larry Craig)

WASHINGTON — The gay couple turned away by the Colorado baker when they asked him to bake a cake for their same-sex wedding said they took solace in the U.S. Supreme Court’s narrow decision in favor of the baker.

While expressing disappointment with the ruling, the two men and the American Civil Liberties Union attorneys who represented them noted the high court’s 7-2 decision turned on what justices called open anti-religion hostility toward the baker by the Colorado Civil Rights Commission that ruled against him.

“I’m just hoping that people can understand that this is not a wide-ranging ruling and that it doesn’t mean that the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act has been invalidated in any way,” said David Mullins. He and Charlie Craig filed the complaint over baker Jack Phillips’ refusal to make the couple’s wedding cake.

“We have always believed that in America, you should not be turned away from a business because of who you are, that no one should have to face the shame, embarrassment and humiliation of being told, ‘We don’t serve your kind here’ that we faced. We will continue fighting until no one does,” Mullins added, during a conference call with reporters. “This ruling did not change that.”

In the majority opinion Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote that the commission had shown “impermissible hostility toward the sincere religious beliefs that motivated [baker Jack Phillips’] objection” to making the cake for the same-sex couple because of his religious beliefs, violating his First Amendment rights.

“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.

But Kennedy made clear the decision turned on that hostility, and the ruling does not resolve the broader question of whether businesses can deny services to gay and lesbian  people based on religious objections.

“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 wrote.

He said the commissioners had “disparaged Phillips’ faith as ‘despicable’ and characterized it as merely rhetorical.” The opinion noted one commissioner had compared Phillips’ “sincerely held religious beliefs to defenses of slavery and the Holocaust.”

(See related story: Supreme Court rules in favor of baker in gay wedding cake case)

James Esseks, director of the ACLU LGBT & HIV Project, acknowledged that the Supreme Court’s decision “was not the result that we were looking for.”

But he noted the majority opinion’s repeated affirmations of anti-discrimination laws protecting the rights of gays and lesbians.

“We read this decision as a reaffirmation of the court’s longstanding commitment to civil rights protections and the reality that the states have the power to protect everyone in America from discrimination, including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people,” Esseks said.

“The broad ruling that the baker was looking for here was that it had a license under the Constitution to discriminate among its customers based on who they were, and they most emphatically did not get that ruling from this court today.”

Esseks said the court based its ruling “on facts that are entirely specific to this particular case and to concerns that the court had about bias or potential bias by the Colorado Civil Rights Commission,” adding: “But I think if you look at what the baker argued and what the court did here, the bakery might have won the battle but it lost the war.”

Phillips’ lawyer with the conservative Alliance Defending Freedom praised the decision.

“The court’s decision today makes very clear that the government must respect Jack Phillips’ beliefs about marriage,” Kristen Waggoner, the group’s senior counsel, told reporters during a conference call.

“If we want to have freedom for ourselves, we have to extend it to those with whom we disagree. And the court’s decision in a 7-2 in a broad ruling held that religious hostility has no place in our pluralistic society. No one should be banished or bullied from the marketplace for peacefully living out their beliefs about marriage.”

Other religious conservatives also praised the Supreme Court’s decision.

Christian evangelist Franklin Graham tweeted:


The Colorado Court of Appeals had ruled against Phillips in the case, Masterpiece Cakeshop Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission.

Nationwide, florists, bakers, photographers, videographers and others have claimed that providing wedding services to same-sex couples violates their constitutional rights. But courts have rejected the claims.

But another such case could end up before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Barronelle Stutzman, a 72-year-old grandmother and florist, asked the high court last July to review a unanimous decision by the Washington Supreme Court that she violated state anti-discrimination law by refusing to provide flowers for a same-sex couple’s wedding because of her religious objections.

Justices are to weigh whether to take the case during their conference Thursday.

This article is republished with permission from Talk Media News.