Masterpiece Cakeshop Violated Civil Rights Law by Turning Away Gay Couple, Court Rules
DENVER – In a unanimous decision issued this morning, the Colorado Court of Appeals ruled that a Lakewood Bakery unlawfully discriminated against David Mullins and Charlie Craig by refusing to sell them a cake for their wedding reception. The ruling affirms a finding in May 2014 from the Colorado Civil Rights Commission that Masterpiece Cakeshop’s policy of turning away same-sex couples violates Colorado’s Anti-Discrimination Act.
“Today is a proud day for equality and for upholding the law. In America, no one should be turned away from a shop or restaurant because of who they are or who they love,” said Ria Mar, staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union’s LGBT Project, who argued the case. “When every lesbian or gay person, every woman, every person of color, every person of every faith can walk into a store, a bank, a hospital, and know that they will get the same service as everyone else, we will have won. Until then, we continue to fight for the equal treatment we all deserve. Today we can celebrate this big win.”
In 2012, Colorado residents David Mullins and Charlie Craig, along with Charlie’s mother Deborah Munn, 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.
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.
According to the opinion, “Masterpiece remains free to continue espousing its religious beliefs, including its opposition to same-sex marriage. However, if it wishes to operate as a public accommodation and conduct business within the State of Colorado, CADA prohibits it from picking and choosing its customers based on their sexual orientation.”
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 anti-discrimination laws. The courts have ruled without regard to whether LGBT people could have obtained the goods or service elsewhere. Instead the courts have recognized the harm to equal opportunity if lesbian and gay people can be turned away from businesses otherwise open to the public because of who they are.
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
The ACLU of Colorado is the state’s oldest civil rights organization, protecting and defending the civil rights of all Coloradans through litigation, education and advocacy.
Every month, you'll receive regular roundups of the most important civil rights and civil liberties developments. Remember: a well-informed citizenry is the best defense against tyranny.