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. 

View comments (80)
Read the Terms of Use

Anonymous

But a muslim Cab driver can legally refuse a person with a service dog because his religion says dogs are unclean. Where is the ACLU on that one?

Anonymous

......But a Muslim cab driver can refuse to offer his services to a person with a service dog (even when he does not even own the cab company) because his religious beliefs say dogs are unclean Where was the ACLU for these cases?

A Person

I think it was okay for the man to refuse the two gay men service. No, I am not homophobic. In fact, I strongly support the idea behind homosexuality because I was raised to believe that people have a right to run their life so long as they aren’t harming anybody else. If a man loves a man and a woman loves a woman, they have a right to love who they love and other people don’t necessarily have the right to judge them or belittle them. Just because you disagree with someone’s perspective doesn’t mean they should be any less to society. What does bother me however is the homosexual couples who find it necessary to make a big deal out of small incidents that occur. For example, this situation. They had asked the man to make them a gay cake for their wedding. The man had not refused them service, he had not refused to sell them anything, he hadn’t insulted them in any way, shape or form, HOWEVER he did decline to make them a gay cake, because it was against his religion. I believe it was absolutely okay for him to deny making them a cake because it was his own shop, if he wasn’t making them the cake then he wasn’t receiving any profit from them, he had been polite through the whole situation and he had a good reasoning behind why he would not make the cake. If it isn’t okay for him to refuse service because of his religion, the shouldn’t it be not okay for a Muslim to wear a hijab? That's a terrible example, but that's beside the point. Does it not state in our 1st amendment that people are entitled to their own religious beliefs? If it hadn’t been okay to refuse homosexual couples service because of their religion, then isn’t that a violation of their 1st amendment rights? Please do not take this the wrong way, I have many many friends who are homosexual and I fully support them because I truly believe people are allowed to love who they feel attracted to.

Joe

I would like to agree with you 101% and I wish to add like in education, schools who receive federal financial aids must abide by the federal government rules and regulations. If the shop owner is receiving state funds than he/she must serve everyone that steps in to the shop for cakes.But if its your own business, the legislators now need to pass laws that protect the interest of both parties on the ground of equal rights.

Anonymous

Well to be completely fair, the couple didn’t request a “gay cake”, they requested a wedding cake for their wedding that just happened to be gay. The cake was no different from your average wedding cake.

Joe

In my opinion it would be discriminating when the shop owner criticized the couples way of living, cursed them and kicked them out of his shop. The guy expressed his thoughts on the ground of religious belief. While the court honored Charlie and Dave rights, didn't care for the Baker's owner rights at a time they must be at one distance from both parties. Just like LGBT have a voice to be heard, others should be listened to as well. We need a solution that can protect BOTH sides.

LGBT matters

my brother is gay and when he does get married we are going to go to a place that don't like LGBT people and stand up for our selfs and say if you don't like us that's fine but u still have to give us what we came for our wedding :)

Anonymous

I commend your bravery, but make sure you don't put yourself or your loved ones in physical danger^^

Anonymous

A business's job is to provide services, not to discriminate.

Anonymous

you have the right to believe what you want even if others dont like it. if you dont like it learn the Constitution.

Pages

Stay Informed