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

The rights of a business are not more important than the rights of private individuals. I'd like to know if the shop owner refuses to sell cakes to those who are divorced, had pre-marital sex, etc... Are we all going to have to fill out an extensive questionnaire when buying something to make sure we don't offend the business?

Johnny White

When a business is OPEN TO THE PUBLIC that business CANNOT discriminate in this manner, tuf guy.

Anonymous

No. You don’t get to debase human beings because you don’t feel like exercising self-control over your mouth. You agreed to the conditions to be open to the public when you bought a business license. Don’t “feel like it?” Don’t be in business.

Anonymous

Women would not have voting rights today if not for the ACLU. In the early 1900's, women demanding voting rights were essentially viewed as radicals or terrorists by the U.S. government. Many women were beaten up and bloodied for wanting to vote.

Not even the majority of American voters (all men) in the early 1900's supported giving women the right to vote. In other words many constitutional rights are obtained through the court system - not the voting booth. Is this the Utopia you are describing? Maybe discuss this with your wife!

Anonymous

Anyone that has ever planned a formal wedding knows it takes 6-12 months advance planning to reserve all of the wedding vendors and services. In real practice, if a cake shop backs out of the deal a week before the wedding or on the actual wedding day - it's extremely difficult to get equal service for equal cost. In essence LGBT couples pay a form of "poll tax" to get a nice cake on their wedding day and aren't receiving the same level of treatment as any other couple. These issues are very complex, not just a simple solution in many cases.

Anonymous

Maybe in towns where there are no non-bigot options in cake shops, Amazon should come in and put the bigots out of business! Brick & Mortar stores can't afford to turn away any customers to online retailers these days, they would be lucky to get all of the LGBT business they can.

Anonymous

Most do a fine job, but there are other services like auto mechanics, plumbers, electricians, etc. that have also been accused of offering sub-standard work to customers simply based on their skin color, creed or sexual orientation. Many times these "2nd Class Citizen Taxes" aren't very overt and can't be proven but can add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars over a lifetime - that wouldn't be charged to other customers. Most are good businesses but there are bad apples also that is very costly to minorities. These aren't the ambulance owners but are a vital part of every American's opportunity for success. Weddings are very important, it's one of the most important events in a person's life so it's not just about a cake.

Anonymous

It should be noted that one of the lead attorneys supporting LGBT rights in the U.S. Supreme Court case was conservative Republican and devout Christian - Ted Olson - former member of the George W. Bush administration.

So the bigot-wing of the Christian faith doesn't speak for all Christians. There are even Christian Republicans that disagree with the owners of the cake shop.

Anonymous

I agree that it's ridiculous to hurt your own wedding cake business by refusing to sell a wedding cake. However, I have wondered about these various cases - what if someone wanted a racist rant written on a cake? And the owner refused and they were sued by the customer. Would the ACLU represent the racist customer or the owner? Doesn't an owner have a right to not make something if they don't want to? It only hurts their own business. And, I believe a bakery is a private business, not a public service such as an ambulance. Further, having a cake or not is not life or death, as is an ambulance, for example, and that seems to me to be a big difference in whether they have a legal obligation. This is just an inquiry and I am curious. I am in full favor of love for everyone, regardless of who they are and whom they love and cake for everyone!

Anonymous

A "custom" cake is a standard expectation of the services provided by a public bakery that sells cakes. Can a baker refuse to make a cake with a design they find objectionable or in a style that they don't do? Absolutely. But when a baker refuses to accommodate a customer in the same way that they would any other because of their sexual orientation, they have illegally discriminated against the customer.

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