US court rules in favour of baker who denied gay couple a cake

Jack Phillips, the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, leaving the Supreme Court in December. The court said on Monday that a Colorado panel’s decision against him had been infected by religious animus. (Zach Gibson/The New York Times)

Jack Phillips, the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, leaving the Supreme Court in December. The court said on Monday that a Colorado panel’s decision against him had been infected by religious animus. (Zach Gibson/The New York Times)

On Monday, a baker in Colorado won a US Supreme Court case after he refused to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple, claiming that it goes against his religious beliefs.

The justices ruled 7-2 in favour of Jack Phillips, noting that in the original case, the Colorado civil rights commission “showed an impermissible hostility toward religious beliefs,” according to New York Times. The Supreme Court also ruled that Phillips’ First Amendment Rights were violated, which protects the freedom of religion. Five conservatives and two liberals voted in favour of Phillips.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, who wrote for the court’s majority, emphasised his appallment at the Colorado commission’s ruling in which they referenced slavery and the Holocaust before asserting that Phillips had used his defence of freedom of religion, “to hurt others,” according to Politico. Kennedy also proclaimed that the Colorado commission was partisan when deciding the case.

“This sentiment is inappropriate for a Commission charged with the solemn responsibility of fair and neutral enforcement of Colorado’s anti-discrimination law — a law that protects discrimination [sic] on the basis of religion as well as sexual orientation,” he said.

The case surfaced in 2012 when David Mullins and Charlie Craig went to Phillips’ Masterpiece Bakeshop and asked Phillips if he could make a cake for the couple’s wedding reception to take place in Colorado. The baker refused, responding, “I’m sorry, guys, I can’t do that,” according to NBC News. Gay marriage was not yet legal in Colorado at the time.

The couple made a formal complaint to the Colorado state commission and the commission took on the case. The commission ruled that Phillips had violated Colorado’s public accommodation law, which prevents discrimination in public accommodations including hotels, retail stores and restaurants. The law details that discriminatory practices include “denial of service, terms and conditions, unequal treatment, failure to accommodate and retaliation.”

Phillips appealed, claiming that the commission violated his First Amendment rights because making a cake for a homosexual couple forcibly made Phillips express a belief that went against his religion. The Supreme Court picked up the case, first hearing it in December 2017.

Members of the Trump administration are reportedly pleased with the outcome of the hearing. “The First Amendment prohibits governments from discriminating against citizens on the basis of religious beliefs,” said Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Conservative Christians also saw the case as a victory. Kristin Waggoner, Phillips’ attorney who is based at conservative Christian NGO Alliance Defending Freedom, saw the case as a huge win.

“We looked forward to celebrating this victory and protecting the right of all Americans to be able to live consistent with their beliefs. The court has said the law has to be applied in an even-handed manner ... It’s a strong statement about religious hostility and that it has no place in our society,” she said.

Some gay rights advocates found that the ruling could bring light to other LGBTQ issues. Chad Griffin, the president of the Human Rights Campaign — which advocates for LGBTQ rights — believes the case exposed discrimination in the US.

Although some see the case as a success, other LGBTQ activist groups believe that the case will have burdensome repercussions.

“While this decision does not change existing civil rights protections, it leaves the door wide open for religious exemptions to be used against LGBTQ people,” said Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation president and chief executive Sarah Kate Ellis.

“LGBTQ people will continuously be vulnerable until the liberty and justice for all tenants of the Constitution apply to all Americans, including LGBTQ people.”

According to Reuters, 21 states have anti-discrimination laws that protect members of the LGBTQ community. The case will not change any civil rights laws in the US.

Arielle Schwartz

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