The United States Supreme Court took the side of a Colorado baker on Monday, deciding by a 7-2 majority that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission had violated the Constitution's protection of religious freedom by ruling against a baker objecting to making a wedding cake for an openly LGBTQ couple for “religious” reasons.
The Supreme Court ruling overturned a lower court verdict that the baker's free speech rights had not been violated by the request to make a cake for the couple.
Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority opinion, said that the State Commission’s “consideration of the case was inconsistent with the state's obligation of religious neutrality.”
In the majority brief, Justice Kennedy specifically touched upon recent LGBTQ history in the crafting of this legal decision:
“Our society has come to the recognition that gay persons and gay couples cannot be treated as social outcasts or as inferior in dignity and worth…and the Constitution can, and in some instances must, protect them in the exercise of their civil rights…at the same time, the religious and philosophical objections to gay marriage are protected views and in some instances protected forms of expression.”
The Colorado Civil Rights Commission’s action:
“Was inconsistent with the first amendment's guarantee that our laws be applied in a manner that is neutral toward religion. (The baker) was entitled to a neutral decision-maker who would give full and fair consideration to his religious objection as he sought to assert it…
The outcome of cases like this in other circumstances must await further elaboration in the courts, all in the context of recognizing that these disputes must be resolved with tolerance, without undo disrespect to sincere religious beliefs, and without subjecting gay persons to indignities when they seek goods and services in an open market.”
Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor dissented, citing references in the majority opinion to make their case.
Justice Ginsburg, writing for the minority, said she “strongly disagree(s)…with the Court’s conclusion that (the LGBTQ couple) should lose this case. All of the quoted statements (in the majority decision) point in the opposite direction:
(The LGBTQ couple) simply requested a wedding cake…They mentioned no message or anything else distinguishing the cake they wanted to buy from any other wedding cake Phillips would have sold… Phillips would not sell to (the LGBTQ couple) for no other reason than their sexual orientation, a cake of the kind he regularly sold to others. When a couple contracts a bakery for a wedding cake, the product they are seeking is a cake celebrating their wedding – not a cake celebrating heterosexual weddings or same-sex weddings – and that is the service (the LGBTQ couple) were denied… 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.
The American Civil Liberties Union weighed in soon after the Court ruling, speaking over their social media channels their opinion that the ruling was a narrowly-focused one by intention.
“SCOTUS reversed the decision… based on concerns specific to the case. The court did NOT rule that the Constitution gives a right to discriminate,” according to the ACLU tweet.
Former Houston Mayor Annise Parker, speaking on behalf of the Victory Institute, a pro-LGBTQ political action group, said by email that the decision “was a sad day for America.”
Today the Supreme Court led us away from one of the basic tenets of American idealism – that all are treated equally. While the Supreme Court made a narrow ruling focused exclusively on a state agency’s treatment of a Colorado baker, opponents of equality will use it to try and open the floodgates. Homophobic forces will purposefully over-interpret the ruling and challenge existing non-discrimination laws by refusing service to LGBTQ people in even more situations…
State and local civil rights enforcement offices are now on the frontlines in protecting LGBTQ people from widespread discrimination, so it is critical we pressure elected leaders to fully fund these agencies and ensure they have the resources to push back on attempts at discrimination.
The National LGBT Bar Association issued a press release soon after the decision, saying it was “devastated” by the decision and calling it “a true attack on the Constitutional rights of LGBTQ people.”
We believe the rights of minority groups to be free from the oppression of a majority religion cannot be infringed. Freedom of religion is an important and cherished right guaranteed in our Constitution, but that right does not and should not give anyone the right to treat certain Americans as second-class citizens.
Discrimination under the guise of so-called "religious freedom" must not be allowed to flourish. LGBT Americans deserve the same respect and dignity their heterosexual and cisgender friends, neighbors, family, and countrymen deserve. We must continue to fight against discrimination in all its forms, whether it be through the legislature or the courts. This is not the end.
Chris Sanders with the Tennessee Equality Project put the decision in local perspective.
The ruling is not the one we would want…Fortunately, this is not a sweeping ruling that guts civil rights laws around the country.
LGBTQ people can already be turned away from Tennessee businesses because sexual orientation and gender identity are not part of the Tennessee Human Rights Act. The Court will be dealing with the questions in the case for years to come, and those of us in Tennessee have significant work to do to protect LGBTQ people from discrimination.