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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Indy_Skies

No special details or decorations were requested for the cake. The customers simply requested a "wedding cake," something the bakery does provide to other customers. The two men entered the shop, accompanied by one of the men's mothers, and asked to order a wedding cake.

"At the shop, the couple was met by Phillips. When they told Phillips that they were interested in purchasing a wedding cake for their wedding, he replied that it was his standard business practice not to provide cakes for same-sex weddings. He explained that he would sell the couple other baked goods, including 'birthday cakes, shower cakes, … cookies and
brownies.' But, he said, 'I just don’t make cakes for same-sex weddings.' Id. at 4a–5a, 64a–65a.

"Craig, Mullins, and Craig’s mother immediately left. They never discussed details about the cake that Craig
and Mullins were seeking, such as the cake’s design or whether it would include any special features or messages."

http://www.scotusblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/16-111-BIO-CCRC.pdf

Bobby Goodson

The arguments in this case do not, at the lowest level have to do with the status of the respondents as a same-sex married couple. This case is entirely about a cake shop that refused equal service to a couple that does not share their religious beliefs. Whatever the belief structure of Craig and Mullins, they were singled out and refused service based on that sole difference.

Anonymous

Did they refuse to make cake. Absolutely not! Those LGBT haters of Christians want to impose their evil LGBT agenda on them!

Anonymous

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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

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