Religious Rights Versus Civil Rights

In a 7-2 ruling, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Jack Phillips, a Colorado baker who refused to bake a wedding cake for Charlie Craig and Dave Mullins in 2012.

In a drastic turn away from his previously pro-LGBTQ decisions, Justice Anthony Kennedy voted with the majority and wrote the decision for the court, saying “the outcome of cases like this in other circumstances must await further elaboration in the courts,” meaning that this ruling applies only to this case and is not precedent-setting in its constitutional implications.

In other words, the court has yet to rule on whether or not it is constitutionally acceptable for a merchant to deny services or products to a person based on their sexual orientation on the grounds of religious objection.

Mainly, this decision addresses the way in which the Colorado Civil Rights Commission handled Phillips’ hearing.

The court found that the commission acted with hostility towards Phillips and towards religion.

“At the same time the religious and philosophical objections to gay marriage are protected views and in some instances protected forms of expression, neutral consideration to which Phillips was entitled was compromised here.”  — Justice Kennedy

Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor were the lone dissenters.

“When a couple contacts a bakery for a wedding cake, the product they are seeking is a cake celebrating their wedding — not a cake celebrating heterosexual weddings or same-sex weddings — and that is the service (the couple) were denied.” — Justice Ginsburg

Phillips has refused to make anything that he feels violates his Christian faith, including Halloween-themed cakes.

When Craig and Mullins requested the wedding cake, Phillips refused but offered to make any other kind of baked good instead, which the couple also refused.

“The Bible says, ‘In the beginning there was male and female.”  — Phillips

Unsurprisingly, the current administration backed the decision.

“A custom wedding cake is not an ordinary baked good; its function is more communicative and artistic than utilitarian. Accordingly, the government may not enact content-based laws commanding a speaker to engage in protected expression: An artist cannot be forced to paint, a musician cannot be forced to play, and a poet cannot be forced to write.” — Solicitor General Noel Francisco

The original commission, however, argued that providing a wedding cake to a same-sex couple does not imply, require, or result in the support or endorsement of same-sex marriage as a practice or as an ideology.

“This case is about more than us, and it’s not about cakes. It’s about the right of gay people to receive equal service.”  — Mullins

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) published an excellent summary of the implications of this decision, which you can read here.


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