The Supreme Court sided against LGBT activists this morning and ruled that a Colorado baker's religion was not given enough consideration in whether he could deny service to a same-sex couple.
With the 7-2 decision, the Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission case is a setback at the Supreme Court for LGBT Americans. The justices said the commission that sanctioned Masterpiece had erred, writing that “the law must be applied in a manner that is neutral toward religion.” It wrote a vigorous call for respectful treatment of anyone who cites religious beliefs when denying service to LGBT people. Regardless of its legal ramifications, though, the ruling will give same-sex couples more cause for concern that businesses won't always welcome them.
The case involves Masterpiece owner Jack Phillips’s refusal to bake a wedding cake for gay couple David Mullins and Charlie Craig for their 2012 celebration in Colorado, following a wedding in Massachusetts. Phillips cited his Christian beliefs against same-sex marriage, and said creating the cake would violate his rights to freedom of religion and artistic expression. He had been willing to sell the couple other goods, but not a custom wedding cake. The civil rights commission had found the baker in violation of the state’s antidiscrimination law, and Colorado courts had upheld its ruling, leading to a hearing in December at the U.S. Supreme Court and a ruling today that reversed the commission.
Activists are calling this a "narrow" ruling because of its focus on the civil rights commission's decision-making process and they insist it does not create any new license for businesses to discriminate. “This doesn't change civil rights laws,” wrote Human Rights Campaign president Chad Griffin on Twitter. Griffin said the justices had focused on the Colorado commission that “acted improperly.”
“The Court reversed the state court decision only because it found that the record in this case indicated that the Colorado Commission’s deliberations were tainted by anti-religious hostility,” said Shannon Minter, legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights. Minter claimed there’s nothing in the ruling to suggest the commission should’ve reached a different conclusion. “Today's decision leaves intact the longstanding principle that states can require businesses open to the public to serve everyone, even when some businesses believe that doing so violates their religious beliefs.”
"The Court did NOT rule that the Constitution gives a right to discriminate," the American Civil Liberties Union wrote in reaction on Twitter this morning. It shared a photo of its lawyers "hard at work" and proclaimed "this fight isn't over until everyone has equal treatment under the law."
"Some will use this narrow ruling as fuel to divide us," warned Rebecca Isaacs, executive director of Equality Federation. The political reaction will become increasingly important.
“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 GLAAD president Sarah Kate Ellis. “Today’s decision emboldens the anti-LGBTQ Alliance Defending Freedom and the Trump Administration in their persistent push to legalize discrimination against LGBTQ people under the misnomer of religious freedom.”
Donald Trump's own press secretary, Sarah Sanders, has said the president supports allowing businesses to hang signs that say they refuse service to LGBT people. She made the comment from the podium in the briefing room in December after the Supreme Court heard oral arguments.
Democratic National Committe chairman Tom Perez said, "This case was never just about a wedding cake." Perez is focusing on the LGBT people affected, saying no individual ought to be given a personal license to discriminate. "It was about all people — no matter who they are — having the right to celebrate their love without facing discrimination."
The public does not support religious-based discrimination. Public Religion Research Institute’s most recent survey — in which it questioned 40,000 Americans across 50 states in 2017 — found that 60 percent of Americans oppose allowing a small business owner to refuse service. And PRRI found that even among Americans who oppose marriage equality, nearly half still oppose citing religion to refuse service.
Rea Carey, executive director of the National LGBTQ Task Force, said the ruling, “while disappointing, has to do with the specifics of this particular case.” Even so, it has potential to become problematic. “Our nation decided more than 50 years ago, that businesses should be open to all,” she said, “and today this ruling, while narrow, chips away at our right to equity and our value of being a society where no one should be rejected for being Black, Brown, low-income, a woman, or a member of the LGBTQ community.”