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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Lisa

This is an excellent idea!

Sabrina

This is several days late, I apologize, but I wanted to expand on your comment. Most consider the "punishment" for a bad judge, to lose the re-election. This particular judge seems to have ruled the way he did in a plea for re-election this year. Bakersfield is highly conservative and rural and desolate compared to other areas of California, including their surrounding counties. A prayer rally supporting the bakery owner was well received and very public. Sadly, I feel if he'd ruled correctly, and by that I mean, constitutionally, he would have been punished. He took the cowards way out and probably is expecting to be overruled by a higher court. He saves face with his constituents, without actually having to be held responsible for anything because it's now out of his hands. I hate the valley.

Richard J Stuart

It's shocking that the ACLU has no interest in protecting free speech, religious liberty, or the rights of artists. A Wedding cake is not a generic item, it's an artistic creation. Forcing artists to create works against their religious beliefs is outrageous. Do we force liberal artists to make cakes supporting the war in Iraq? Of course not. The line here is clear. If you want a generic product then yes, you cannot discriminate. But if this involves any sort of artistic or creative work, then you have no right to force anyone to speak on your behalf..

Anonymous

There is a difference between "Fine Art" vs. "Commercial Art for Hire" - real purists believe you shouldn't make any money at all if it is really Fine Art. If it is semi-fine art, the cake-maker would make anything they please then sell it "as is" off the shelf. Most real artists throughout history paid the rent with "commercial art for hire" then did the fine art in their spare time and stored it in their attic and forgot about it. Even Michaelangelo was paid "commercial art for hire" to paint church walls and ceilings.

Lisa

Richard: Your logic is flawed. The bakery refused to make a cake for someone because the customer didn't meet their religious standards. No one was trying to force the bakery to create a cake that went against their beliefs (e.g. racist slogan, X-rated images), which is what your Iraq War statement suggests. The cake itself was never the issue, nor is it relevant whether the item is generic. By your logic, if a black man went to a diner he would have to be served--unless he requested something "creative" like extra ketchup on his burger.

Anonymous

A "wedding cake" from a "cake shop" is a generic item. It is a thing on the menu. Just as a steak from a steak restaurant, whether the chef is John Smith or Gordon F-Bomb Ramsey, is still a steak. The chef may call it art all he likes, but it is still a menu item and anyone is entitled to order off the menu, be he straight, SAGA, or fallen in from outer space.

If the artist wishes to withhold his or her artistic talent for whatever reason, he or she may, without penalty, also hold his or her tongue. "This is not a service we will be able to provide," is a legitimate answer and places no judgement. It's poor business sense, of course, and wrong, and a damnable lie. But it is the individual's right to do so.

A wedding cake is not "art" in this sense: You literally cannot have your cake and eat it too, and it is therefore a commodity in this instance.

Your argument is still specious, because a PERSON may do what he or she pleases, but a COMPANY may not. If the operator of a liberal-owned bakery feels they cannot make cakes supporting the war in Iraq, they may offer design choices that are unappealing to the choosing committee, but they may not turn down a job that they would do for the DNC.

BESIDES, DaVinci is not free to come back from the dead and explain that he doesn't want the Mona Lisa in the Louvre because they once lost it. Art is free to the world, and an artist has no control over it once it's done, which is why Chicago gets to call their famous sculpture "the Bean" even though it infuriates the creator. Don't use an example that can't even keep its own name when you're trying to make a hare-brained argument in favor of discrimination.

E Foreman

It would seem, then. that this baker should be compelled to refuse service to divorcees, adulterers, liars, all of whom the scripture castigates with more frequency.

Anonymous

just shut up you liberal reject

Randomutation

The baker did not deny service because the customers were gay. So why should the baker deny service if the customers are "divorcees, adulterers, liars" ? The baker only denied service because the requested service would involve making a cake that expressed as message the baker objcted to.

DF

Compel the baker to refuse service to fornicators, adulterers, divorcees and liars. The scripture has a lot more to say about those.

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