DENVER – The Colorado Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments today in a discrimination case brought by a same-sex couple against a cake shop that refused to sell them a cake for their wedding reception.
In 2012, Colorado residents David Mullins and Charlie Craig visited Masterpiece Cakeshop to order a wedding cake. Mullins and Craig planned to marry in Massachusetts and then celebrate with family and friends back home. Masterpiece owner Jack Phillips informed the couple that, because of his religious beliefs, it was his standard business practice to refuse to provide cakes to customers for same-sex weddings. Phillips has turned away several other couples for the same reason.
“As marriage equality becomes law all across the nation, it’s especially disheartening that we’re still fighting this battle where businesseslike Masterpiece Cakeshop feel they can violate the law and discriminate against us just because of who we are and who we love,” said Mullins. His partner Craig added, “It’s time we moved on from using religion as an excuse to discriminate. No one should be told they are less than anyone else, especially at a joyous time like a wedding.”
Colorado’s Anti-Discrimination Act prohibits businesses, such as Masterpiece Cakeshop, from refusing service based on factors including race, sex, national origin, or sexual orientation. The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Colorado filed suit on behalf of Mullins and Craig in 2013.. In December 2013, an administrative judge ruled that the bakery had illegally discriminated against the couple. In 2014, the Colorado Civil Rights Commission affirmed that ruling. Masterpiece Cakeshop appealed.
“Nobody gets to pick and choose which laws they want to follow,” said ACLU of Colorado Legal Director Mark Silverstein. “If a business owner is allowed to simply cite personal beliefs as a basis for turning away same-sex couples, then what stops a doctor from denying medical care or a pharmacist from denying a prescription?”
When businesses and other institutions that serve the public have sought exemptions to laws barring discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, the courts have held that businesses are required to comply with LGBT discrimination laws. The courts have ruled without regard to whether LGBT people could have obtained the good or service elsewhere. Instead the courts have recognized the harm to the notion of equal opportunity if LGBT people can be turned away from businesses otherwise open to the public because of who they are.
“This case has never been about cakes. Let me be clear: This is about sending a message that open for business in America means open to all,” said American Civil Liberties Union Deputy Director Louise Melling. “We strongly believe that freedom of religion is our constitutional right and we will continue to defend it, but religion should not be used as an excuse to discriminate. That’s why we’re fighting for Dave and Charlie and others who are victims of discrimination in the name of religion.”
For more information about Charlie Craig and David Mullins v. Masterpiece Cakeshop: https://www.aclu.org/cases/charlie-craig-and-david-mullins-v-masterpiece-cakeshop?redirect=lgbt-rights/charlie-craig-and-david-mullins-v-masterpiece-cakeshop