WASHINGTON — The gay couple turned away by a Colorado baker when they asked him to make a cake for their same-sex wedding said Monday they took solace in the narrow scope of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 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. He noted one commissioner had disparaged Phillips’ faith as “despicable,” characterized it “as merely rhetorical” and compared the baker’s “sincerely held religious beliefs to defenses of slavery and the Holocaust.”
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.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, joined by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, dissented in the Supreme Court decision, saying they would have upheld the state commission’s ruling that Phillips discriminated against the same-sex couple.
(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:
We thank God for answered prayer! Today the Supreme Court has ruled in favor of Jack Phillips, the Colorado baker who refused to create a wedding cake for a same-sex marriage ceremony. This is a huge win for religious freedom!https://t.co/jXX6pd6xaQ
— Franklin Graham (@Franklin_Graham) June 4, 2018
In Washington, the ruling drew widely varying views.
U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy III, D-Mass. tweeted:
Allowing exemptions to our civil rights ignores the painful lessons of our nation's past. #MasterpieceCakeshop ruling sends a dangerous signal to those across the country who wish to use religious freedom as a sword rather than a shield.
— Rep. Joe Kennedy III (@RepJoeKennedy) June 4, 2018
House Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., tweeted:
The right to be free from persecution & discrimination because of who they are or whom they love is the most fundamental right of every American. The Supreme Court’s Masterpiece Cakeshop decision fails to uphold equality. #SCOTUS https://t.co/xKBf7j51qe pic.twitter.com/pYDQqk2Cmh
— Nancy Pelosi (@NancyPelosi) June 4, 2018
By contrast, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement: “The First Amendment prohibits governments from discriminating against citizens on the basis of religious beliefs. The Supreme Court rightly concluded that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission failed to show tolerance and respect for Mr. Phillips’ religious beliefs.”
The Colorado Court of Appeals had affirmed the commission’s 2012 ruling 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 consistently rejected the claims.
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.