Traditionally, the wedding cake has always been a centerpiece of the reception and a symbol of the union of love between the bride and groom. Its origins may date back to ancient times, but in the modern age, the cake’s symbolic meaning extends to couples all across the gender spectrum. But not everyone shares those views. When one Colorado baker refused to make a wedding cake for the nuptials of Charlie Craig and Dave Mullins, he set off an intense legal battle that will finally see its day in court — the Supreme Court, that is.
Back in 2012, Craig and Mullins stopped by Masterpiece Cake Shop, owned by baker Jack Phillips, to inquire about designing a cake for their upcoming wedding day. An average of 44,230 weddings take place every weekend, and to Craig and Mullins, theirs was no different than any other. But Phillips did not agree. Once he found out who the cake was for, he refused, telling the couple he didn’t design cakes for same-sex marriages.
According to Phillips, he doesn’t refuse to serve customers for being gay. He says he even offered to make cupcakes or cookies for the couple. But he draws the line at custom cake designs, as he feels doing that would be in opposition with his religion.
“I shouldn’t be forced to create a cake that goes against my faith,” Phillips told the LA Times.
Phillips says he also refused to make Halloween-themed cakes (as he feels the holiday promotes witchcraft) or anything deemed as anti-American, anti-family, racist, atheist, or indecent. He’s turned down divorce celebration cakes and anything promoting alcohol consumption, as well.
But that didn’t lessen the sting for the couple, who by their own accounts felt “emotional, embarrassed, and degraded.” According to Phillips, the couple swore at him, gave him the middle finger, and stormed out of the shop. They later sounded off on social media, which caused a real firestorm. Phillips had trash thrown at his shop and even received death threats.
Eventually, the couple decided to file a discrimination complaint with the state civil rights commission. The 88th Congress passed the Civil Rights Act in 1964, which banned discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin in public facilities and in schools, but sexual orientation wasn’t part of the conversation until more recently. While federal law doesn’t forbid businesses or public employees from discriminating against others based on sexual orientation, the state of Colorado does. Back in 2008, Colorado has required all public businesses to serve customers equally without regard to their sexuality. The law states that “no place of public accommodations” (which includes restaurants, retail stores, hotels, and more) is allowed to deny people “the full and equal enjoyment of the goods [or] services … because of disability, race, creed, color, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, or ancestry.”
Based on the law, an administrative judge initially decided that Phillips was indeed in violation of the law by refusing to provide the couple with equal service. The Colorado Civil Rights Commission and the state appeals court agreed. Both the state the the American Civil Liberties union are in agreement that the case is about discrimination, but others have fired back that this goes against the country’s tradition of maintaining religious liberty. And in fact, Phillips’s lawyers will argue in court that the baker was well within his religious rights to refuse to provide service to the couple. Even the Trump Justice Department supports his argument that as a “cake artist,” Phillips should not be forced to make a cake that goes against his religious beliefs. Phillips and his team feel that his religious objections to gay marriage should entitle him to First Amendment protections.
Louise Melling, the deputy director for ACLU, expressed her concerns about such an exemption. It could create “a constitutional right to discriminate founded on your religion,” she told the LA Times. “What are the limits to that?”
We’re about to find out. Trump recently nominated Justice Neil Gorsuch, a native Coloradan, to the Supreme Court this spring. Gorsuch has a history of giving wide latitude to religious beliefs during his time in Denver’s 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. Now, he’ll get a chance to weigh in on a case from his home state that has the potential to impact all Americans.
The case has passionate supporters on both sides. Phillips told the New York Times, “I’m being forced to use my creativity, my talents, and my art for an event — a significant religious event — that violates my religious faith,” but not everyone views that as an excuse.
Freedom For All Americans, an LGBTQ rights group, said in a statement, “All of us cherish the American promise of religious freedom as protected under the U.S. Constitution, but that doesn’t give anyone the right to discriminate against others. This case will be an important opportunity to have a national conversation about the values we all share as Americans and the importance of equal treatment for everyone.”