The Supreme Court has ruled in favor of the baker in a case that has, for years, been the avatar of anti-GBTQ+ discrimination. Those who seek the license to discriminate are cheering the victory, and some fighters for equal rights are feeling defeated, but in truth, the ruling was far more narrow, and doesn’t protect the (imagined) ‘right to discriminate.’
The case dates back to 2012, when, according to the ACLU, Charlie Craig and David Mullins attempted to purchase a custom wedding cake to celebrate their union. Masterpiece Cakeshop owner Jake Phillips refused the order, citing his religious beliefs and that Colorado did not, at that time, recognize same-sex marriages. (Craig and Phillips had their legal ceremony outside the state.)
The Colorado Civil Rights Commission, however, determined that Masterpiece Cakeshop had violated Colorado Civil Rights laws by discriminating against the couple for their sexual orientation. The ruling was appealed and made its way to SCOTUS this year. On Monday, June 4, the highest court in the nation announced an overturn of the ruling.
However, the ruling is incredibly narrow and does not affirm the right to discriminate based on religious beliefs. NPR emphasizes Justice Anthony Kennedy’s statement that future cases could be decided quite differently.
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 undue respect to sincere religious beliefs, and without subjecting gay persons to indignities when they seek goods and services in an open market.
The court ruled that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission acted with hostility to Phillips’ religious views, and thus did not provide a fair hearing. The court did not rule that the decision of the Civil Rights Commission was wrong, or that Phillips was within his rights to deny service.
While the ruling is certainly painful for the community that had hoped for an LGBTQ+ rights victory, Justice Kennedy’s admission that LGBTQ+ individuals should not be ‘subjected to indignities’ when attempting to make the same purchases as cisgender and heterosexual consumers has some weight.
…these disputes must be resolved…without subjecting gay persons to indignities when they seek goods and services…
The ACLU released a short statement following the ruling, noting that the ruling is based on details relevant only to this case, and does not set any precedent for future cases.
The Court did NOT rule that the Constitution gives a right to discriminate.
Rather than considering it a defeat, the organization is calling for supporters of LGBTQ+ rights to sign a petition demanding civil rights legislation to protect against such discrimination in the future.