Supreme Court justices voted to hear an appeal from the owner of a Colorado bakery who refused to create and design a wedding cake for a same-sex couple.
The high court has agreed to hear a major case pitting conservative Christian beliefs against gay rights, and decide whether some business owners may cite their religious views as a reason for refusing to serve same-sex couples.
The justices voted to hear an appeal from the owner of a Colorado bakery who refused to create and design a wedding cake for a same-sex couple.
The case will be heard in the fall, and it could have a wide impact in the states that prohibit discrimination against people based on their sexual orientation.
No federal law requires businesses to serve all customers without regard to their sexual orientation, but 21 states have “public accommodations” laws that prohibit such discrimination against gays and lesbians. They include California and six other states in the West, Illinois and three other states in the upper Midwest, and 10 states on the East Coast from Maryland to Maine. No state in the South or on the Great Plains has such a law.
Jack Phillips, the owner of the Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, Colo., was charged with violating the state’s anti-discrimination law, which says businesses open to the public may not deny service to customers based on their race, religion, sex or sexual orientation.
The state commission held that his refusal to make the wedding cake amounted to discriminatory conduct, and the state courts upheld that decision.
But Phillips appealed to the Supreme Court, arguing he deserved a religious exemption based on the 1st Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of speech and free exercise of religion. His lawyers described him as a “cake artist” who will “not create cakes celebrating any marriage that is contrary to his understanding of biblical teaching.” They also said he has refused to make cakes to celebrate Halloween or created baked goods that have an “anti-American or anti-family themes” or carry profane messages.
In 2012, he said he politely declined to make a wedding cake for Charles Craig and David Mullins, who had planned to marry in Massachusetts but then have a reception in their home state of Colorado.
They lodged a complaint with the state civil rights commission, which ruled against Phillips and ordered him to provide wedding cakes on an equal basis for same-sex couples. His lawyers say he refused to comply while his appeal proceeded.
“They said you have to create cakes for same-sex couples, so he removed himself from the market. He chose to stop making wedding cakes,” said Jeremy Tedesco, a lawyer for the Alliance Defending Freedom, who appealed on his behalf.
Lawyers for the state commission and the American Civil Liberties Union urged the court to turn down the appeal in Masterpiece Cakeshop vs. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. They said it could open a “gaping hole” in civil rights laws if business owners could cite their religious beliefs as a valid basis for denying service to certain customers.
Two years ago, the justices turned down a similar appeal from a wedding photographer in New Mexico. Since then, the issue has arisen in several other states whose laws forbid discrimination based on sexual orientation.
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