High Court rules in favor of Colorado baker in gay-couple wedding cake case

In a landmark decision Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the Colorado Civil Rights Commission demonstrated hostility toward religion over a suburban Denver baker declining service to a homosexual couple.

Monday’s ruling ended a six-year case which centered on a Lakewood, Colo., man, Jack Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, who refused service to a homosexual couple requesting a wedding cake.

The now-married men, David Mullins and Charlie Craig, later filed a grievance with the commission under the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act.

Following a string of losses in the state’s lower courts, the Colorado Supreme Court refused to hear the case.

In a 7–2 decision, the Court determined in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission the baker was denied a fair hearing in front of Colorado’s state civil rights panel after a complaint was lodged by the couple.

In an unusual move, two of the Court’s liberals, Justices Breyer and Kagan, sided with the conservative majority.

In a lengthy, 59-page decision for the majority, Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy reaffirmed protection for Mullins and Craig, but dodged the larger issue for those who claim religious exemptions from anti-discrimination laws, writing:

“The laws and the Constitution can, and in some instances must, protect gay persons and gay couples in the exercise of their civil rights, but religious and philosophical objections to gay marriage are protected views, in some instances protected forms of expression.” 

“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.” 

In a dissenting opinion, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was joined by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, both of whom argued the majority was engaged in making false comparisons:

“Phillips would not sell to Craig and Mullins, for no reason other than their sexual orientation, a cake of the kind he regularly sold to others.  What matters is that Phillips would not provide a good or service to a same-sex couple that he would provide to a hetereosexual couple,” Ginsburg wrote.

Despite the powerful appearance of a 7–2 decision, a rarity, the three concurring opinions offered by six separate justices clashed.

Writing one opinion, Justice Kagan wrote states could distinguish the denial of service over offensive requests instead of a denial of service over identity.  Kagan was joined by Justice Breyer.

In a partial concurring opinion, Justice Thomas alone wrote unpopular positions should remain protected and Phillips’ refusal of service qualifies because it’s “outside the new orthodoxy.”

Following the court victory, Jack Phillips said in a statement:

“It’s hard to believe that the government punished me for operating my business consistent with my beliefs about marriage. That isn’t freedom or tolerance.”

Mullins and Craig issued a statement of their own: “Today’s decision means our fight against discrimination and unfair treatment will continue. We have always believed that in America, you should not be turned away from a business open to the public because of who you are.”

 

[Reuters] [New York Post] [SCOTUSblog] [Photo courtesy ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images via AOL]