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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KC

Great thoughts.

Sue Parry

This is the absurd end point of defining corporations as people. People can have religious beliefs. Corporations, no matter how you twist it, can't.

Anonymous

Right on!

Anonymous

Great anaolgy, I totally agree.

don

being a service provider myself; i have the freedom of selecting my clientele. yes it is a fine line BUT the couple chose freely their relationship. popular or not is their issue. if the baker in good conscience could not provide professional service for any reason they elect; the couple should go seek an establishment that could meet their expectations. the end. i am wanting to ask if either( the wedding couple) ever heard the word "no" ?. having grown up with a cake decorator,( my mom) i saw her turn down tasks that may have been outside her scope or desire. the end . ok..you're gay in an evolving society( i have gay and transgender friends) you know you will be met with some issues. why beat up the baker..?move on . so... none of the ppl coming know another baker?

Bob.A

I agree with your points but -
There are not two ‘persons’. There are two entities. The human and the corporation. In a sole proprietorship there is one entity, the person who is conducting business. In a corporation there are two entities, the person(s) and the corporation. Calling these both persons is what got us into trouble with Citizens United — giving companies human rights.

A company does not have human rights. A corporation cannot claim religious freedom right or even free speech rights such as in advertising. So we should make an argument that therefor a corporation cannot discriminate and violate a humans human rights. But what about a sole proprietorship? I assert if any business, including a sole proprietorship, is open to the public it must serve the public; the whole public. If a business wants serve only a portion of the public it must close its public doors, form a private club with membership rules, and offer goods and services to only members of its private club — but then of course it must serve all members of its club.

Anonymous

Thank you!

Dana

Excellent point

Sanjiv Sarwate

I don't usually check the specific organizational form of a business before deciding whether I am going to shop there.

John Carollo

Brilliant. Wish I'd thought of that.

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