Today, in a 7-2 opinion authored by Justice Kennedy, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of a baker who refused to create a cake for a gay couple. The Court held that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission’s actions violated the baker’s right to free exercise of religion under the First Amendment.
In 2012, a gay couple visited Masterpiece Cakeshop, and the owner told them that he would not create a cake for their wedding reception because of his religious opposition to same-sex marriages. The couple filed charges with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission pursuant to the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act (CADA), which prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation. The Commission referred the case to an Administrative Law Judge who ruled in the couple’s favor. Both the Commission and the Colorado Court of Appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed.
Justice Kennedy reaffirmed protections for gay rights, and indicated that under other circumstances cases raising similar issues might be decided differently, but wrote that “The neutral and respectful consideration to which Phillips was entitled was compromised” in this situation because the meetings’ discussion disparaged the cake shop owner’s beliefs. Without objection from other commissioners at the meeting a Commissioner had stated, “I would also like to reiterate what we said in the hearing or the last meeting. Freedom of religion and religion has been used to justify all kinds of discrimination throughout history, whether it be slavery, whether it be the holocaust, whether it be—I mean, we—we can list hundreds of situations where freedom of religion has been used to justify discrimination. And to me it is one of the most despicable pieces of rhetoric that people can use to—to use their religion to hurt others.”
Justices Thomas, Gorsuch and Kagan each wrote concurring opinions. Justice Ginsburg, joined by Justice Sotomayer, issued a dissenting opinion. Justice Ginsburg wrote “The different outcomes the Court features do not evidence hostility to religion of the kind we have previously held to signal a free-exercise violation, nor do the comments by one or two members of one of the four decisionmaking entities considering this case justify reversing the judgment below.” She went on to say, ”What matters is that Phillips would not provide a good or service to a same-sex couple that he would provide to a heterosexual couple.”
Photo Credit: Shutterstock / Joseph Sohm