Can Businesses Turn LGBT People Away Because of Who They Are? That’s Up to the Supreme Court Now.

The United States Supreme Court just agreed to decide a case about whether a business can refuse to sell commercial goods to a gay couple because of the business owner’s religious beliefs.  A win for the business could gut the nation’s civil rights laws, licensing discrimination not just against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people, but against anyone protected by our non-discrimination rules. 

In July 2012, Debbie Munn accompanied her son, Charlie Craig, and his fiancé, Dave Mullins, to the Masterpiece Cakeshop just outside of Denver  to pick out a cake for their wedding reception.  When the bakery’s owner heard that the cake was for two men, he said he wouldn’t sell them a cake because of his religious beliefs. 

Debbie was stunned and humiliated for Charlie and Dave.  As she has  said, “It was never about the cake.”  She couldn’t believe that a business would be allowed to turn people away because of who they are or whom they love.  They might as well have posted a sign in the shop saying “No cakes for gays.”

The Colorado courts agreed with Debbie and ruled that the bakery’s refusal was unlawful and rejected the bakery’s request for a religious exemption from the state’s longstanding non-discrimination law. 

By granting review in Charlie and Dave’s case, the Supreme Court has placed  a spotlight on supposed tensions between equality and religious liberty.  But the country has already found the right balance between these two important constitutional interests. 

Under the Constitution, we each have the right to our own religious beliefs.  We are empowered to act on those beliefs --  but not when our actions would harm others.  That’s because religious freedom doesn’t give anyone the right to discriminate against or harm other people.

When businesses open their doors to the public, they must open them to everyone on the same terms, regardless of race, color, national origin, disability, or – under many state  laws – sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity. Even when  a business owner’s religious beliefs may motivate her to discriminate, that doesn’t justify an exemption from our civil rights laws.  Providing commercial services, like selling cakes, doesn’t mean a business owner is endorsing anyone’s marriage.  It simply means they are following the rules that apply to us all.

Demands for religious exemptions from civil rights laws are not new.  In the past, businesses have repeatedly sought to pay women less than men because of a religious belief that men are “heads of household” and women should not work outside the home.  Other businesses have refused service to people living with HIV because of a belief that they are sinful.  Still others turned people away from restaurants because of their belief that they should not  interact with people of a different race.  The courts rightly rejected all of these claims for religious exemptions, despite the fact that they were based on deeply held beliefs. 

There’s no reason that religious exemptions should be any more acceptable when it comes to turning people away because of religious beliefs about  sexual orientation or gender identity.  Courts across the country have agreed, including a decision from the Washington State Supreme Court  in February.  

The religious exemptions issue has gained prominence recently as civil rights protections for gay and transgender people have become more widespread.  States have proposed laws that would license discrimination by businesses, government workers, adoption agencies, and counselors.  Congress has considered similar measures. And President Trump has signed an executive order that signaled his intent to use religious exemptions to advance discrimination. But polling shows that both the American public and business owners themselves reject these overbroad exemptions and recognize them as discrimination. 

Charlie’s mom was right:  It’s not about the cake. Or the flowers. It’s about not being turned away from a business because of who you are.  Religious freedom must be protected in America, but what’s going on here is pure  discrimination. 

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Anonymous

This article should also be in the Out for Freedom category which has not been updated in a long time.

Kerry Fox

The fact this has gone as far as it has shows the current governments corruption. OUR rights will soon be gone. Citizens United, the so called patriot act...you can bet if there is a legislation called "Power to the People", it will be the complete destruction of what remains of our constitutional rights.

Joshua Stow-Moulden

It's also not about being able to purchase services elsewhere. Years ago black people were also told "just go somewhere else". The African Americans who demanded service at a Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro, N.C., in 1960 could have gone somewhere else to eat. I doubt they were sitting there because they'd heard about the awesome food at Woolworth’s. They went on purpose because they knew that lunch counter wouldn't serve them, and they wanted to make a point: such denials of service are an affront to human dignity and decency. They relegate a segment of our population to second-class citizenship.

D J Hunter

Blacks didn't go to lunch counters to shut down lunch counters. These assholes of drove past nearly 70 bakeries to get to this family operated Christian bakery, even though gay marriage was illegal. They went there to put these people out of business. It was never about the cake. Why did the go to Mass. instead of suing Colorado. Because it was easier to strike a small family with their Christian hate. Why did they pass Orthodox Jewish bakeries?

No wonder the straight world hates gays. Go your way. Let others go there way. But no...you are a perversion to mainstream life. Sorry. Suing these folk will never change that.

Laura Michelle ...

So the cake shop owner's religious convictions were against selling wedding cakes to unmarried same sex couples, but OK with selling them to unmarried opposite sex couples? Because NONE of them are married yet.

How do they feel about selling them to legally married same sex couples, or couples in any combination of genders, AFTER they are married, civil/church/whatever? How do they feel about selling them to determinedly single LGBTQI people? Just what does the wedding cake moral application form look like?

They must sell products to LGBTQI people unless they require a signed user agreement, and many of them will be single. What is there about a pending marriage and the couples genders that make selling wedding cakes to some still single people OK and not to others?

If they are claiming artistic license to discriminate, is the artistic content in the improvised ingredients (no recipe), or the hand made woman w/ man toppers (not mass produced plastic), or the hand made multi level supports (same), or the uniquely colored and applied icing?

Laura Michelle ...

so how is cake baking different from cooking? How is being turned away from trying to order a wedding cake any different from being told we don't serve your kind at a restaurant (excluding fast food)? Religious objections do not draw a line at wedding cakes, the next person will be told they can't get food at a restaurant, or can't buy a home.

And remember the couple turned away from a wedding cake were almost by definition not married yet. This bakers finely tuned religious objection was objecting to 2 single LGBTI people from buying a wedding cake, the next will exclude LGBTI from entering their store or buying from them at all.

and remember the couple trying to order the cake

Anonymous

Don't you worry.It won't be long till your government is telling you how to dress,eat and breath.you all gonna be sheep soon.

Howard Bleiwas

I agree that the ACLU has this PARTIALLY wrong, as there is a free speech component that should not be dismissed.
In the SCOTUS certiaori, Masterpiece cited that Colorado Civil Rights Division (CCRD) took an opposite position in multiple similar cases in which other 'cake artists' were allowed to refuse cakes with messages which conflicted with their personal, moral or religious views (such as those espousing racial superiority or quoting specific OT/NT Bible passages which admonish homosexuality).
A government agency cannot discriminate as to which messages are deemed to discriminate; if the rule is applied in support of same-sex marriage, the same rule must be applied (and the same rights apply) to those who hold the opposite position, against same-sex marriage.
In the CCRD supporting one view (arguably 'suppressing' religion) while clearly disregarding the opposing religious view, the argument of "non-discrimination" may seem disingenuous.
There also was the other issue, that Masterpiece did not refuse cake products, rather just the artistic expression (cake decoration) which they had consistently applied within the constraints of their business (e.g.: no Halloween cakes, which was cost them substantial revenue, whose customers would be entitled to the same protections).
Should one party be able to compel another to violate their religion? Wouldn't that be just as counter to the Constitution and Bill of Rights? To paraphrase Animal Farm, "Nobody should be more equal than another."
These are complex questions, which may have complex answes. In maintaining one's rights, one should understand and defend those of others with equal zeal.

Indy_Skies

The cake did not differ from other cakes which the bakery did make and sell. So the owners were not being asked to produce a specific type of cake that dishonored their religious convictions. The exact same cake was sold to others. So it was a neutral product available to the public. All of the public.

Anonymous

As quoted earlier, the question is whether the courts can compel the baker to create an expression that is in conflict with his religious beliefs. I don't think that the courts should be able to compel this baker to create an expression of anything he doesn't want to create. I, as a Christian, would not expect a Muslim artist to paint a picture of Christ for me, and I wouldn't be offended if he or she said, "Would you like a painting of a Mosque instead?"

If the gay couple picked an already made cake off the shelf and asked to buy it, the baker should sell it to them, but just like I should not be able to force an artist to paint what I want them to, this baker should not be forced to create a cake that is offensive to him.

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