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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Anonymous

What if that was the only cake shop in miles? What if it was the only cake shop to specialize in certain decorations or flavors? Discrimination is against the law. Period. This judge is wrong.

Anti hypocrisy

Would these same people turn down a gay paramedic if they were injured? I bet their ideas about who is acceptable would change then! If small businesses can refuse people because of their sexual orientation because of their religious beliefs, then they shouldn’t be able to receive any help or services from those same people.

KyleZombie

You're far too dumb to understand what discrimination is, what it means and why we have laws against it.

Anonymous

A cake is a cake. It wasn't any different from any other cake. This is just stupid. If they they had pretended to be a bride and her brides maid they would've gotten the damn cake but lost their self respect. Would you like to have to pretend to be something you are not just to go into a public store?

Anonymous

They are buying a cake from their business, not them directly. Besides, the business already agreed to sell them a cake and scheduled a meeting. To deny a customer service after meeting them based on who they are as a person, and not on any actions, lack of payment, etc, is an obvious case of discrimination.

How you can defend their action is beyond me. It would be like telling someone that got mugged and is suffering PTSD from it to "grow a backbone".

Anonymous

What if the bigot owns the only ambulance company?
Does he get to leave you bleeding on the side of the highway because he doesn't agree with your lifestyle?

Anonymous

This case is not about "say[ing] nasty things." It is about equal access to public accommodations. Should a lunch counter be allowed to refuse service to minorities?

Nobody is forcing the owner to sell wedding cakes -- they are requiring that they sell the *same* cake to any couple that asks for it. The cake shop should not be forced to produce a product they don't want to (e.g., a donut tower), but they should not be allowed to only sell a product to some customers. To extend the above analogy, a Kosher Deli should not be required to sell bacon cheeseburgers, but they also should not be allowed to refuse to sell bagels to Muslims.

Anonymous

Your privilege is showing. Because this does not affect YOU, it is not a problem. After all, you live somewhere with a wide variety of vendors to choose from. Surely one of them will serve you. You forget that this ruling applies equally to small rural areas. Areas with perhaps only 1 grocery store. What a great place to be a bigot... Knowing that market forces will not punish you and you can afford to turn away gays... maybe even blacks, on religious grounds.

Anonymous

No one is forcing that bigot to open a business to the public. If they want to open their doors to the public, they can’t choose to deny service to someone purely based on some aspect that is irrelevant to the transaction. What’s next, denying service because of race? The judging and demeaning of others is not ever acceptable. To condone it in public businesses is appalling. There are lots of ways for bigots to earn a living without having any contact with the public. If they can’t treat the public with dignity and respect, they should save themselves and decent human beings a lot of pain and humiliation and find one of those many other ways to get by.

Anonymous

If the proprietor is claiming a religious right to refuse service, exactly where in the bible is that allowed? The proprietor offers cakes for sale. In that offering does she say there are requirements that must be satisfied to buy the cake other than having the means to pay for it? NO. So, the couple have every expectation of making that transaction. By not disclosing some qualification needed to purchase the cake other than the assumed requirement to be able to pay, the proprietor is deceitful. The couple have every right to feel belittled and betrayed. The proprietor chooses in this instance to hurt her own business by refusing potential revenue, and must accept that risk to her business once word gets around of how she treats potential customers. Who else might she decide to insult and humiliate? Some non-christian couple? An atheist couple? A non-white couple? It is all the same. Maybe it will be you, just because you're an asshole.

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