The Supreme Court will begin hearing, today, whether a baker in Colorado is within his rights to refuse making a wedding cake for a gay couple, in a closely-watched case that weighs the First Amendment against the Fourteenth.
The plaintiffs, Denver couple David Mullins and Charles Craig, say the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, Jack Phillips, told them, “I’m sorry, guys, I can’t do that,” when they ordered a cake in celebration of their nuptials. “There was this horrible pregnant pause,” Mullins recalls, “while what was happening sunk in, and we were mortified.”
The men took their case to the Colorado courts, which ruled that local public accommodation laws forbade Phillips from refusing the couple’s order. Phillips appealed, and the case ended up on the Supreme Court’s docket.
Phillips is arguing that being forced to create a wedding cake for a same-sex couple “goes against my faith”, and therefore violates his First Amendment rights. Craig, however, says it was his and his partner’s sexual orientation, not the actual cake, that lies at the heart of this case. “He simply turned us away, just because of who we are, instead of what we asked for.”
Legal experts say the high court’s ruling in the case could have far-reaching implications that go beyond the LGBT issues germane to this litigation. “If Phillips prevails,” ACLU officials, who are representing the couple, say, “bakeries could refuse to provide cakes for an interracial or interfaith wedding, a Jewish boy’s bar mitzvah, an African-American child’s birthdsay, or a women’s business school graduation.”
A Phillips victory could also bolster so-called “Turn Away Gays” laws in several states, where people and businesses can legally deny goods and services to LGBT individuals or couples, on the basis of “personal or religious beliefs”.
James Esseks, a senior ACLU attorney, noted that “this is about the very viability of civil rights laws“. With President Trump’s appointment of conservative jurist Neil Gorsuch to the high court earlier this year, legal analysts say a rollback of Obama-era decisions granting more rights to the LGBT community is possible. “These cases are all about whether a class of Americans can be discriminated against, with the imprimatur of the Constitution.”
A decision in the case is expected in late June.