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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Amy Clark

I hope the court chooses for non-discrimination, but sadly do not feel confident of it. If the "religious freedom" side wins, I think any business seeking to claim the right to persecute should be required to significantly post this in their place of business, and in any advertising. As part of my religious freedom (the right to be free of others' religion) I would never want to support a business that followed these practices. Similarly, a person claiming this right to persecute within their employment (think county clerk) should be required to disclose this on their job application, so that they are not accidentally hired by decent people. But then I also think that companies which persecute employees through medical insurance restrictions should also be required to clearly state this in job postings and in any signage or advertising for their business. As it stands, I feel like my right to religious freedom is being is being denied and intruded upon, and that by not mandating clear and consistent declarations by those following these perverse policies I am unable to adequately keep from becoming entangled in their abominations.

Anonymous

It is unacceptable for anyone to have to sacrifice their firmly held religious beliefs to operate a business. The ACLU is completely wrong on this issue.

Anonymous

Lmao, get lost.

Kathy Barbis

I guess I just don't understand how baking a cake for a wedding that one isn't attending or officiating is equal to sacrificing one's firmly held religious beliefs. Is this bakery also refusing to serve couples getting married after a divorce? Are they refusing to bake a cake for an adulterer? No. They are cherry picking which parts of the bible they want to hold on to so firmly.

I don't know who you are or where you are from, but imagine just for a moment you are in a situation where you are the one who is "different" and a public business withheld service from you based on some arbitrary trait they saw in you that they didn't approve of. Wouldn't you feel violated on some level?

What about an atheist baker that baked the best cakes ever made, but refused to service anyone who is christian. Would you feel that kind of treatment is not discrimination?

Anonymous

How, exactly, are the bakers religious liberties being curtailed? They are still free to worship where they please and hold the beliefs that they choose. What they cannot do is translate those beliefs into discriminatory actions against customers in the public sector.

Cliff Bernard

What if a business owner's deeply held religious beliefs forbade him to serve Christians? What if you were in a remote town with a broken down car and the only mechanic in 200 miles refused to serve you citing deeply held religious beliefs about your skin colour or religious affiliation?

Anonymous

I agree. Go to walmart and ask for the conferate flag on a cake. They will tell you we dont have that one. So what is the difference? He has cakes he sells if what they want isnt in his line then he doesnt have it. End of it. Otherwise we can go somewhere and request anything and they have to produce it. A Mexican cafe doesnt have chinese on their menu so are they required to make it if i ask? It is food what they sell. Are they discriminating??? This is all about suing and getting money, nothing else.

Anonymous

So if that is ok, then what is next. Can I deny service to another person because he is black, or a Hindu or a protestant because I claim that my religion says so? What you don't understand is that it is not about gays or lesbians, but about being civilized and not using religion as a basis for discrimination. Jesus never said not to love gays or lesbians nor prostitutes for that matter. It is vile people who do that.

Anonymous

So if that is ok, then what is next. Can I deny service to another person because he is black, or a Hindu or a protestant because I claim that my religion says so? What you don't understand is that it is not about gays or lesbians, but about being civilized and not using religion as a basis for discrimination. Jesus never said not to love gays or lesbians nor prostitutes for that matter. It is vile people who do that.

Anonymous

A voice from the Idiocracy.

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