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.

View comments (119)
Read the Terms of Use

Anonymous

Will everybody try to look at both sides here? . if the owner does not believe in that ..who are you to tell him to go against his beliefs? When did one person's feelings and opinions become more important than another? Are you not discriminating against the baker? As long as he is not getting taxpayers money I don't see the problem. This is exactly why Trump got elected and you're making it worse.

Randomutation

Labeling this as “discrimination” against gays is as illogical as saying that that the refusal to service a pro-abortion celebration is discrimination against women. Or that a refusal to service a white supremacy celebration is discrimination against whites.

Anonymous

It's like people have completely forgotten how to make Molotov cocktails and have fallen back on the court system to help. What is America coming to?

Martin Cunningham

I need some help here, so answers and comments are appreciated.

I've been trying to understand the California decision re: cakes and same-sex couples. Here's how I understand it:

1) It's discriminatory to refuse to sell a cake to a same-sex couple. A store owner can't choose who to sell his wares to.

2) A store owner (in this case, a baker) can refuse to bake a cake for a same-sex couple.

This implies that:
3) There's a significant and relevant difference between selling a cake and baking a cake.

I'm prepared to accept this, for the following reasons:

Generally,
Anyone is free to open a store.
Anyone is free to sell whatever they want in that store.
But,
Once they've opened a store, and stocked it with whatever it is they've chosen to sell, they cannot then choose who they will, or will not, sell to.

This seems pretty straightforward and uncontroversial. However, in addition to selling stock, a store owner may choose to accept requests for special orders. He needn't, he could simply sell from stock. Accepting requests is an optional addition to the business. In the baker's case then, he could restrict his business to just selling cakes he's baked; additionally, he could accept commissions for cakes for special events; parties, weddings, anniversaries, and so forth.
This, again, seems uncontroversial.

The California decision, then, focusses on the 'cake by request' part of the baker's business, and argues that a Christian baker can refuse to bake a cake for a same-sex couple, and that to do so does not discriminate against the couple.
Why can the baker do this? The answer, as far as I can tell, is based onsomething to do with the baker's right to free expression of religion, and that this free expression of religion resists any obligation to bake a cake for something against which he has, to use a currently popular phrase, 'a deeply held and sincere belief'.
My question; Am I correctly describing the core issue here? I'm really not sure. I think it's at least in the ballpark.

If it is, I think it misses a more fundamental point. A point that is totally independent of First Amendment rights and religious beliefs.
This is the fundamental point. A request to bake a cake is just that; a request. The ancillary service offered by the baker is entirely voluntary. He is free to offer the service or not, and if he chooses to offer the service he remains free to accept or reject any and all requests made of him. He cannot be compelled to bake a cake, any more than any of us non-bakery owners can be compelled to bake a cake. And as he doesn't have to bake a cake he needn't have a reason or justification for not baking it.
This is a very general claim; it applies to any business where requests to manufacture an item the owner has not already freely and voluntarily made. A Christian baker cannot be compelled to bake a cake for a same-sex couple just as a left-leaning printer cannot be compelled to print neo-Nazi propaganda leaflets, or the proprietor of Miss Kitty's House Of Cat Hats be compelled to make a hat for a dog. Requests can be made, and requests can be rejected, but requests cannot be turned into mandates.
To argue that a baker MUST bake a cake for a same-sex couple is to turn a request into a mandate. This gives a same-sex couple a privilege no-one else has; the right to demand rather than merely request.
The argument against allowing a Christian baker to refuse to bake a cake for a same-sex couple relies on the contrary assumption i.e. that every request is equivalent to a mandate - the baker has to accept EVERY request, and that the baker's religious beliefs don't justify his acting contrary to that mandate. If you take that path you find yourself having to deal with endless questions about just what, if anything, could justify acting contrary to a mandate. Decisions would have to be made about which religious beliefs are relevant, whether they need to true, whether or not a belief is, in fact,'sincerely' held. And similar questions could be raised about an artist's refusing a commission to paint a portrait of Mussolini, or a Jewish deli refusing to make a non-kosher picnic basket.
These tendacious debates are rendered irrelevant as soon as you maintain, and apply, the distinction between a request and a mandate - a distinction which is perfectly clear.

Martin Cunningham

My apologies for killing the conversation.

The gay guy in ...

The ruling explicity says that refusing to SELL a cake to anyone is discriminatory. Stores can't put up signs saying 'No Gays. No Jews.' Neither can it put up signs saying 'No Christians. No Republicans' (well, maybe it can, according to the Civil Rights Act, but that's another issue)

The ruling distinguishes between two aspects of a business; retail selling and special orders or commissions. The Free Speech argument applies only to the commissions side of a business. In this specific case, orders for wedding cakes.

The ruling doesn't say that the ONLY time a baker can refuse to bake a cake is when they're Christian and they're being asked to bake a same-sex cake. That would be outrageously discriminatory.
The ruling says that ANYONE can refuse to engage in ANY activity that they see as infringing their First Amendment not to have to support a view they disagree with.

So, say, a atheist baker could refuse to bake a cake for a Christian ceremony. A Jewish baker could refuse to bake a cake for a Neo-Nazi. I can refuse to wear a MAGA t-shirt if my Trumpian boss tries to make me wear one at work. If refusing to bake a cake for a lesbian wedding is discriminatory then all these are too; they discriminate against Christians, Neo-Nazis, and Trumpian bosses. It would be more appropriate to say that the ruling protects minorities rather than authorizes discrimination against them.

Heidi

I would like to know why these "injured parties" are always going to Christian bakeries for wedding cakes? Why if their "right" to by a wedding cake so much more important than the Christian's right to freedom of religion? We all know that there is a lot of competition in the marketplace, so what is wrong with taking the same-sex wedding cake order to a competitor? And why are these cases always against Christians? When am I going to hear about a lawsuit against a Muslim bakery who refuses to do a wedding cake for a same-sex wedding?

Robert

FAKE NEWS. No one has a right to force labor on someone else without their consent....that’s called slavery.
You’d think the ACLU would be against slavery. But it turns out your For is as long as it works in your favor

Anonymous

Judge Lampe stated that no one who has placed their FINISHED work for sale can discriminate.

However, if the product has NOT YET BEEN MADE, there’s a difference.

This is NOT a religious issue.

Pages

Stay Informed