Like millions of people across our nation, I was heartbroken and devastated upon learning that the Supreme Court, in a 7-2 decision on the Masterpiece Cakeshop case, ruled against Charlie and David, the same-sex couple who had been denied a wedding cake by a Colorado baker. After deciding in favor of marriage equality in Obergefell v. Hodges, how could Justices Kennedy, Kagan, and Breyer rule in favor of legalized discrimination under the guise of religious freedom?
Was the fight more than 30 other plaintiffs and I waged in Obergefell v. Hodges turning out to be in vain? Does this mean that we would not be able to enjoy marriages that are equal to other marriages? Can we now be denied service in public businesses because of the way we were born, the person we love, the gender identity we live as?
Mostly I was scared, afraid of what this meant for the LGBTQ community and our ability to live as equal members of our society, afraid of how this ruling could be used against other minority communities or others who don’t conform to a business owner’s “deeply held beliefs.”
Upon further reading, the Masterpiece decision is not a win for legalized discrimination, nor is it the terrible loss the LGBTQ community initially feared. In fact, this decision affirmed that states can protect LGBTQ people from discrimination in public businesses. Instead of invalidating nondiscrimination laws or making discrimination legal, this decision impacts only this case by sending it back to the Colorado Civil Rights Commission due to what the court found to be a lack of impartiality during the commission’s handling of the case.
Although we can breathe a sigh of relief that the Masterpiece Cakeshop decision did not result in our worst-case, most feared reality, we are still afraid. We’re still concerned about the onslaught of hatred in our streets and the legislative attacks in our city halls, our state houses, Congress, and the White House.
It seems our nation has a short and selective memory; so short, in fact, that a driving reason the Constitution includes the freedom of religion — to prevent persecution of people who practice a different faith — has been forgotten. Instead we have a movement to make public discrimination based on one’s personal beliefs legal. These laws attempt to make one person’s beliefs more valuable, more worthy of protection, than another’s. They aim to make one person’s or one group’s beliefs superior to all others in the public sphere and, in effect, to establish that religion as a national religion that carries more legal weight than others.
It is past time for us to call this religious refusal movement and related legislative efforts exactly what they are — an attempt to legalize persecution of others in the public sphere. Proponents of these efforts are weaponizing religion to protect their beliefs at the expense of others in daily life and in our laws. It wasn’t long ago that a holy book was used to justify laws banning interracial marriages. White supremacists use their holy book to justify their racist attitudes toward people of color. Less than a century ago, religion was used to justify the wholesale slaughter of millions of people.
Have the people of this nation learned nothing? “Whites only.” “No Jews allowed.” “No women need apply.” “No Dogs, Negroes, Mexicans.” “Irish need not apply.”
The Constitution of the United States begins with the phrase “We the People” and, regardless of one’s deeply held beliefs, the LGBTQ community is part of we the people, as are women, people of color, immigrants, and every other minority. A business open to the public should and must be open to the public. I am of the opinion that those pushing for the right to discriminate based on personal religious beliefs in the public sphere are dishonoring the values upon which our nation was founded.
This case was never about the cake, nor was it about artistic expression; otherwise every barista who creates designs in a latte could demand the right to deny service based on their “deeply held beliefs.” This case is about nothing more than the desire to treat an entire community of people as less worthy, less valid, less deserving of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. This is about making sure the LGBTQ community knows its place in our society.
We have come too far on this long path to equality to give up the gains we’ve made, to surrender the rights we now enjoy that were denied for far too long. We refuse to accept that discrimination is right, just, moral, or lawful. The LGBTQ community — and our allies — will not rest until we take our place as full, equal members of our society. We owe it to Frank Kameny, Marsha P. Johnson, Harvey Milk, and so many others who came before us. We owe it to the children of today and future generations.
In my remarks to the press following the Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, I said I look forward to the day that “same-sex marriage” and “gay marriage” no longer exist and it’s simply marriage. Regardless of the increased level of fear and uncertainty under the current administration, that day moves closer to reality when someone proposes, when a loving couple makes their promises legal and public, when someone watches a family member or friend marry the person they love. Every time one person says “I do” to the love of their life, we inch forward toward that day.
I also look forward to the day when “we don’t serve your kind here” is never thought, spoken aloud, or — worst of all — enshrined in law. Then we can truly be “We the people.”
JIM OBERGEFELL was the named plaintiff in Obergefell v. Hodges and is coauthor of Love Wins, published by William Morrow/Harper Collins.