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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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.

Anonymous

The cake the costumers requested was no different from your average wedding cake. It didn’t have a pride flag on it, or a message written “gay sex is in!.” It was just a wedding cake, and they were denied their order because the owner knew the cake was being used for a gay wedding.

Anonymous

They didn't get an opportunity to specify "an expression." The baker refused on the basis of them being a same-sex couple.

Peter Hey

I pose a serious question. I fully support LGBTQ inclusion. But my lingering reservation is: "if the state has the power to force a baker to bake a wedding cake against their will would that not give the state to force a tailor to mend the robe of a member of the KKK?

Sam Wade

Whilst I am both gay and non-religious, I nevertheless find myself disagreeing with the ACLU's stance on this particular case.

Had Mr Phillips declined to produce the cake on the sole and specific grounds of the sexual orientation of the customer(s), he would have unquestionably acted in a discriminatory and unlawful way. But from I understand, that is not what appears to have taken place. Rather than declining to serve LGBT customers generally, it seems that Mr Phillips is instead refusing to use his creative talents to manufacture a particular product which would serve to undermine his personal beliefs. I cannot see how this can be deemed inherently tantamount to refusing service to individual customers who are LGBT.

I would therefore ask the ACLU to drop its opposition to Mr Phillips. In continuing to deny his right to decline particular service requests, the ACLU is only serving to undermine the interests of liberty and the free-market.

"The smallest minority on earth is the individual. Those that deny individual rights cannot claim to be defenders of minorities." - Ayn Rand

Anonymous

The ACLU has supported the imposition of draconian financial penalties on a small business that refused to decorate a cake with words that support a gay marriage. These penalties were imposed by an unelected bureaucracy totally without due process at a level designed to drive the owners out of business. If the ACLU prevails, will it also support similar penalties against a bakery that refuses to decorate a cake with the biblical quotation, “Thou shalt not lie with mankind as with womankind”? If not, who will decide what so-called “hate speech” is unacceptable? Will the ACLU also sue Muslim-owned businesses that refuse to support gay marriage or only bully Christians who believe in turning the other cheek?

Anonymous

The ACLU has supported the imposition of draconian financial penalties on a small business that refused to decorate a cake with words that support a gay marriage. These penalties were imposed by an unelected bureaucracy totally without due process at a level designed to drive the owners out of business. If the ACLU prevails, will it also support similar penalties against a bakery that refuses to decorate a cake with the biblical quotation, “Thou shalt not lie with mankind as with womankind”? If not, who will decide what so-called “hate speech” is unacceptable? Will the ACLU also sue Muslim-owned businesses that refuse to support gay marriage or only bully Christians who believe in turning the other cheek?

Anonymous

The ACLU has supported the imposition of draconian financial penalties on a small business that refused to decorate a cake with words that support a gay marriage. These penalties were imposed by an unelected bureaucracy totally without due process at a level designed to drive the owners out of business. If the ACLU prevails, will it also support similar penalties against a bakery that refuses to decorate a cake with the biblical quotation, “Thou shalt not lie with mankind as with womankind”? If not, who will decide what so-called “hate speech” is unacceptable? Will the ACLU also sue Muslim-owned businesses that refuse to support gay marriage or only bully Christians who believe in turning the other cheek?

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