Christian baker Cathy Miller has fended off a lawsuit by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, which filed suit against her after she turned a female couple away from her business.
Miller refused to make a wedding cake in August for Mireya and Eileen Rodriguez-Del Rio; the couple filed a complaint with the employment and housing department, saying Miller violated the state's civil rights act.
Kern County Superior Court Judge David Lampe instead ruled on Tuesday for Miller, saying her "freedom of speech" outweighs California's interest in banning sexual orientation discrimination within the marketplace, the Bakersfield Californian reports.
In his verbose ruling, Lampe claimed cakes are "artistic expressions."
"A wedding cake is not just a cake in a Free Speech analysis," Lampe wrote. "It is an artistic expression by the person making it that is to be used traditionally as a centerpiece in the celebration of a marriage. ... The state asks this court to compel Miller against her will and religion to allow her artistic expression in celebration of marriage to be co-opted to promote the message desired by same-sex marital partners, and with which Miller disagrees."
The judge also drew a distinction between works of art — which, in his determination, includes baked goods — and practical items for sale.
"A retail tire shop may not refuse to sell a tire because the owner does not want to sell tires to same-sex couples," Lampe wrote. "There is nothing sacred or expressive about a tire."
Represented pro-bono by the Freedom of Conscience Defense Fund, Miller was jubilant after the ruling. "We started screaming and praising God because we felt we had been heard," Miller said, according to the newspaper. "I am very happy to serve everything from my cases to anybody. But I cannot be a part of a celebration that goes against my lord and savior."
It's not clear if the Rodriguez-Del Rios will appeal.
The U.S. Supreme Court is considering a similar question in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, in which Masterpiece owner Jack Phillips contends his rights to freedom of religion and artistic expression would be infringed upon if he was forced to supply a wedding cake for a same-sex couple. The civil rights commission and Colorado courts found that Phillips violated the state’s antidiscrimination law by refusing just such a request from a same-sex couple, so Phillips appealed to the Supreme Court, which heard oral arguments in December and is expected to issue a ruling this summer.