A California Judge Allows a Baker to Discriminate Against a Lesbian Couple Who Wanted a Wedding Cake

On Monday, a trial court in California’s Central Valley blamed a lesbian couple for the discrimination they experienced when they tried to buy a wedding cake. That twisted reasoning ignores the very real harms that occur when people are denied the freedom to participate in public life.

Eileen and Mireya Rodriguez-Del Rio tried to buy a cake from the bakery Tastries, but the owner Cathy Miller turned them away when they arrived for their scheduled cake tasting on Aug. 26, 2017, based on her religious objections to same-sex marriage. Miller instead referred them to a different bakery, even though Tastries regularly sells wedding cakes to heterosexual couples.

The court found that the Constitution creates a right to discriminate, in part by grossly minimizing the harm that the couple experienced when they were rejected. In ruling for the bakery, Kern County Superior Court Judge David Lampe said:

If anything, the harm to [the bakery owner] is the greater harm, because it carries significant economic consequences. When one feels injured, insulted or angered by the words or expressive conduct of others, the harm is many times self-inflicted.

Blaming Eileen and Mireya for the discrimination they experienced that day at the bakery is outrageous. It’s hard to fault people who experience injury when told they are not good enough to be served because of who they are. But the court didn’t stop there.

According to the judge, “the fact that Rodriguez-Del Rios feel they will suffer indignity from Miller’s choice is not sufficient to deny constitutional protection.” Judge Lampe went on to say that an "interest in preventing dignitary harms . . . is not a compelling basis for infringing free speech.”  That is just not true. Putting aside the bakery’s contention that freedom of speech creates a right to refuse equal service, the Supreme Court has long recognized that preventing harm to personal dignity that occurs with discrimination is one of the core purposes of our anti-discrimination laws.

In a challenge to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of federal public accommodations law to ensure human dignity. Justice Arthur Goldberg, in a concurring opinion, wrote: “Discrimination is not simply dollars and cents, hamburgers and movies; it is the humiliation, frustration, and embarrassment that a person must surely feel when he is told that he is unacceptable as a member of the public.”

And in Roberts v. Jaycees, the Supreme Court recognized that discrimination — in that case, turning women away from membership in an organization — “deprives persons of their individual dignity and denies society the benefits of wide participation in political, economic, and cultural life.”

All of us should have the freedom to walk into a business open to the public and know that we will be served. Fearing that you will be turned away because of who you are changes the way you live your life, in real and damaging ways. It forces you to hide who you are. It takes away one's liberty to live an authentic life.

If upheld on appeal, the recent ruling would create a constitutional right to discriminate. It would mean that LGBTQ people, even those who live in states like California with laws against discrimination, must go back to being fearful of embarrassment and hostility when walking into a business. The U.S. Supreme Court is considering this same question in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case right now. Let's hope the justices will see the bakery’s arguments for what they really are — an impermissible attempt to use a claim of speech and religion rights to discriminate against LGBTQ people, and potentially others, across the country.

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Mister Sterling

It's a shock to see such a twisted interpretation of the California constitution, which is even more perfect than the Federal one.

Liberace

Its nice to see that the store owner's rights were upheld for once

Anonymous

Any business that chooses to discriminate against any customer, for any reason, should be required to become a "sole proprietorship" in the eyes of the law. As a "sole proprietorship" their personal assets would NOT be protected from lawsuits or bankruptcy - since the owners are claiming to be same "persons" as the business. Bigoted owners can't have it both ways!

The "personal assets" of the owner or shareholder are only protected because in the eyes of the law there are two "persons": the human-person (owner) is separate from the corporate-person (business). If the business gets sued or goes bankrupt, the owner's house, car and personal assets are protected. Corporate-persons have no religious rights, only human-persons do. If they are one and the same, then the owner would become penniless if the business fails.

If the cake shop owners are real persons of faith, they would legally convert their business to a sole-proprietorship!

Anonymous M.C.

I agree, but, alas, our SCOTUS seriously undermined that concept when they ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby's evangelical owners in pressing a religious exemption to the ACA's mandate that all health plans for employees must include contraceptives.

Anonymous

GREAT point!!!

Anonymous

Interesting. Thoughful. I like it.

Jessica

I absolutely agree with this 100%! You are free to have whatever religion you want, but the minute you start using your religion to make business decisions, you're not entitled to the protections of the business entity.

Anonymous

That would be assuming that all other people were of the same faith and isn’t believe in lawsuits. But even Christians sur one another (supposed to try to work it out themselves but that doesn’t always happen).
My question is whether I should ask the kosher deli owner to make me shrimp because all my faith allows me to eat is seafood? If not then I’m being discriminated against because of their religious food laws. Obviously I’m being antagonistic!

SK

What part of Kosher is difficult for you to understand, Anonymous? Your analogy is flawed, as a customer does not dictate what the store sells. You cannot demand shrimp when shrimp is not available. This couple wanted a wedding cake from a shop that sells wedding cakes, but the owner claims that they can discriminate against the couple based on their sexual orientations.

CLC

That's the thing Anonymous, if the shrimp isn't on the menu them they have no obligation to create a special order for you. In this case the bakery offers wedding cakes so there isn't a special order, it's a regular menu item. It's identical to telling an African-American they can't order a cake regularly offered because of their skin color. Of course, I'm sure you're fine with that also.

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