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

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.

TMM

Hate speech is not protected speech. When your business is open to the public you don't get to choose your customer. If you sell cupcakes and someone wearing a racist t-shirt walks into your bakery and wants to buy a cupcake sitting in the display case, you have to sell it to her.

Anonymous

Being a racist isn't a protected class for purpose of determining discrimination but sexual orientation is.

Anonymous

Making a cake at all is a service, businesses open to the public are required to offer the same services to anyone. However, the cake itself is a product. If a racist walks in and asks for a cake out of the catalog, they should be sold a cake just as any other person would be sold a cake. But cake makers are not required to make custom cakes. You can’t go to a cake shop that specializes in traditional buttercream decorations and demand they make you a cake with the most avant-garde fondant and spun sugar decorations, because that is not a product they sell, just as a racist cake is a product. If however, a buisness does make racist cakes against purple people, it would be required to sell those cakes to anyone who walks in, including a purple person; even though, presumably, the business owner hates/disagrees with purple people. A business can decide which products to make and sell, but it cannot pick and choose to whom they sell those products.

In this example the product is a wedding cake in the style the shop usually makes. Because it is a buiness open to the public it is required by federal ruling to sell that cake to anyone who walks in the door and asks for one, as long as the customer can pay.

Stephe

Two points, they can refuse to put racist language on a cake, because they would refuse that to anyone. Second, replace LGBT with race, and then explain how this is any different than the civil Rights battles in the middle of last century. Are we going to have gay only lunch counters next?

Anonymous

Many of those against LGBT rights also claim to support Law & Order and claim not to be soft on crime.

In the American model of law and government, the Judicial Branch is hierarchical unlike the other two branches. A lower level federal District Court's ruling is the "law of the land" for that district but is subordinate to rulings by higher level courts. A federal Appeals Court is the "law of the land" for an entire region (consisting of several states) but is subordinate to the U.S. Supreme Court. The U.S. Supreme Court's ruling is the "supreme law of the land" for every region, every state and every locality. Every federal, state and local official (or contractor) is bound by that high court ruling under Article III and VI of the United States Constitution.

It is a constitutional crime and a federal crime to disobey U.S. Supreme Court rulings. The U.S. Supreme Court has not only ruled that LGBT Americans have all the rights & privileges of any other citizen - but that they also ruled LGBT parents pose no danger being parents raising children. This is the "supreme law of the land" in the United States.

Every police office, judge, clerk, state legislator and every other government official/contractor is now legally bound by that ruling. This is what Law & Order means!

Anonymous

They should be given the redress and the judge should be removed

Jimmy

Entities don't have religious beliefs. If a person want to use religious beliefs to discriminate then the "sole proprietorship" option is the way for them to go. Also for the record, entities don't have compassion,a heart or brains. The entity can only be sued for their value of the business. The "sole proprietor" could be sued personally for their assets, all of them.

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