An appeals court in Colorado ruled on Thursday that a bakery whose owner is Christian violated the state's anti-discrimination law by refusing to make a wedding cake for a gay couple.
The ruling announced was a loss for Masterpiece Cakeshop owner Jack Phillips and a victory for Charlie Craig and David Mullins. When the bakery turned Craig and Mullins away in 2012, the couple had plans to get married in Massachusetts and later celebrate with friends back in Colorado.
That decision, the appellate court said in its ruling, "equated laws precluding same-sex marriage to discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation."
"But for their sexual orientation, Craig and Mullins would not have sought to enter into a same-sex marriage, and but for their intent to do so, Masterpiece would not have denied them its services," the three-judge panel wrote.
The ruling was premised chiefly on the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of a number of protected categories, including sexual orientation.
The court noted that the purpose of CADA was to avoid "the economic and social balkanization prevalent when businesses decide to serve only their own 'kind,'" and to ensure "that the goods and services provided by public accommodations are available to all of the state’s citizens."
Same-sex marriage was not legally recognized in Colorado at the time Craig and Mullins first filed charges with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission. But the agency ruled in favor of the couple anyway, finding in May 2014 that the bakery, as a place of public accommodation, had discriminated against them "because of" their sexual orientation.
In its decision on Thursday, the appeals court upheld the commission's determination and rejected further claims that requiring businesses not to discriminate amounts to "compelled speech" that violates the First Amendment -- an argument commonly made by photographers and other wedding vendors who do not want to provide services for same-sex weddings.
"We conclude that the act of designing and selling a wedding cake to all customers free of discrimination does not convey a celebratory message about same-sex weddings likely to be understood by those who view it," the court said, saying the "message" came instead from the customers who request the cake.
With respect to Phillips' religious objections to serving gay couples, the judges pointed out that the state's anti-discrimination law is of "general applicability" -- that is, it applies to every business in the state.
"Masterpiece remains free to continue espousing its religious beliefs, including its opposition to same-sex marriage," the decision said. "However, if it wishes to operate as a public accommodation and conduct business within the State of Colorado, CADA prohibits it from picking and choosing customers based on their sexual orientation."
“Being denied service by Masterpiece Cakeshop was offensive and dehumanizing especially in the midst of arranging what should be a joyful family celebration,” Mullins said in a statement released by the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado. “No one should fear being turned away from a public business because of who they are."
It was not immediately clear whether Phillips plans to appeal the ruling to the Colorado Supreme Court. But according to The Associated Press, his attorneys say they haven't ruled out going to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary.
In April 2014, the Supreme Court declined to take up a case by Elane Photography LLC, a New Mexico wedding photography company that made First Amendment claims similar to those raised by Phillips' bakery.