In the landmark civil rights case Obergefell v. Hodges (2015), the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the fundamental right to marry is guaranteed to same-sex couples. As in many civil rights movements, this and other progress made to further LGBTQ rights has been met with strong backlash from opposition.
On December 5, 2017, the Supreme Court heard arguments for Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. According to the SCOTUS blog, the case: “examines the issue of whether applying Colorado's public accommodations law to compel the petitioner to create expression that violates his sincerely held religious beliefs about marriage violates the free speech or free exercise clauses of the First Amendment.” Masterpiece Cakeshop is the Court’s first significant LGBTQ rights case since Obergefell v. Hodges. A ruling is expected by June 2018.
In 2012, Jack Phillips, the Evangelical Christian owner of Colorado bakery Masterpiece Cakeshop, refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple citing his religious beliefs that God intended marriage to be between a man and a woman. The same-sex couple who were denied the wedding cake, Charlie Craig and David Mullins, contest that Phillips’ refusal to create their wedding cake represents clear discrimination.
"This case is about more than us, and it's not about cakes. It's about the right of gay people to receive equal service." - David Mullins in a CNN interview
Mullins is right – this is not about cake. Rather, Masterpiece Cakeshop is about the legality of businesses deemed to engage in expression (bakeries, florists, photographers, musicians, restaurants, jewelers, etc.) refusing LGBTQ customers service on religious freedom grounds. The Court’s ruling will help to determine the validity and authority of religious liberty claims, which involve businesses or individuals refusing service to customers based on their “sincerely held religious beliefs.”
Phillips is a strong proponent of religious freedom. The baker maintains he would sell Craig and Mullins a different type of cake but cannot sell them a wedding cake since same-sex marriage conflicts with his religious beliefs. Phillips contends that baking the couple a wedding cake would violate his First Amendment rights to free speech and religious expression by forcing him to celebrate an act which he deems sinful.
“But the outcome is the same as if Phillips outright refused specific services to all gay individuals simply because he’s homophobic or for any other reason: He will provide some services to different-sex couples but not to same-sex couples.” - German Lopez in Vox
While Phillips is entitled to his own religious beliefs, he should not be allowed to use his religion as justification for discrimination.
“You can’t practice your religion in a way that fundamentally excludes others.” - David Mullins in USA Today
If the Supreme Court rules in Phillips’ favor, where is the line? Such a decision would effectively dismantle civil rights law, jeopardizing the basic rights of LGBTQ people as well as other minority groups:
“[If the Court rules in favor of Masterpiece Cakeshop], bakeries could refuse to provide cakes for an interracial or interfaith couple's wedding, a Jewish boy's bar mitzvah, an African-American child's birthday, or a woman's business school graduation party." - The ACLU in NBC News
LGBTQ customers, like all customers, are entitled to equal service regardless of the business owner’s religious beliefs. No one should be granted less options in the public sphere simply due to who they are. To suggest otherwise, is fundamentally discriminatory and sends a toxic message to future generations.
This is not just about Craig and Mullins’ right to a wedding cake from their bakery of choice. In a case like this, where civil rights are on the line, there is so much more at stake.
In July, the Trump administration filed a friend-of-the-court brief on Phillips' behalf with potential to influence the Supreme Court’s decision. The administration expressed support for granting businesses the legal right to hang anti-LGBTQ signs denying LGBTQ customers service, such as “Wedding Cakes for Heterosexuals Only.” Such signs have the potential to harm and humiliate members of the LGBTQ community.
When I was growing up, same-sex marriage was not yet legal. As a young teenager, I remember assuming this was due to LGBTQ relationships being somehow lesser than heterosexual relationships. This distinction separated me from my heterosexual peers and diminished my sense of self-worth. I predict seeing anti-LGBTQ signs hung openly (and lawfully) by businesses would have a similar – if not pronounced – effect on today’s LGBTQ youth.
LGBTQ youth need support not discrimination. According to the Trevor Project, LGB youth are almost five times as likely to have attempted suicide compared to heterosexual youth and a recent national study indicates that 40% of transgender adults report have made a suicide attempt. It is statistics like these which both Phillips and the Court need to take into consideration. Is Phillips’ religious freedom and free speech worth subjecting members of the LGBTQ community to “No Gays Allowed” signs?
And what good is the right to marry if we can’t walk into a bakery, jeweler, venue, or clothing store without fear of discrimination? Don’t get me wrong - I want the right to marry but I also want the ability to walk into any business without fear of discrimination. I want this for myself, fellow LGBTQ people, and most of all, for future generations.
This is not about cake. We are not asking for special permission to override anyone’s right to religious freedom, artistic expression or free speech in their day-to-day-lives. We are asking for equal service.