June 11, 2021

The Wedding Cake Case

In 2012 Messrs. Craig and Mullins asked Mr. Phillips’ bakery to bake them a wedding cake to celebrate the couple’s upcoming marriage.  Mr. Phillips declined because of his religious opposition to same sex marriage.  He offered to sell them other cakes.  The couple then complained to the Colorado Civil Rights Commission that Mr. Phillips’ refusal was a violation of a state law that prohibits a place of business engaged in the sale of goods or services to the public from discrimination based on sexual orientation.   The Commission agreed with the couple.  It ordered Mr. Phillips, among other things, to stop selling wedding cakes only to heterosexual couples.  Mr. Phillips appealed, ultimately, to the United States Supreme Court. The Supreme Court decided in favor of Mr. Phillips.  It nullified the Commission decision because it found that the Commission acted improperly by failing to give Mr. Phillips the respectful and neutral hearing that his Constitutional right to freely exercise his religion required.

Because the decision was based on improper conduct of the Commission, the case was neither a win nor a loss for same-sex couples or those with religious opposition to same-sex marriage.  The Supreme Court did set out principles to be considered in cases like this: “The first is the authority of a State and its governmental entities to protect the rights and dignity of gay persons who are, or wish to be, married but who face discrimination when they seek goods or services.  The second is the right of all persons to exercise fundamental freedoms under the First Amendment [of the US Constitution] … both the freedom of speech and the free exercise of religion.”

It recognized that it is a “delicate question” to reconcile the constitutionally protected rights of decent people, like Messrs. Craig, Mullins and Phillips, who, when you get behind labels, are simply trying to live their lives according to genuine and legitimate beliefs.

The Supreme Court opinion concluded: “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 disrespect to sincere religious beliefs, and without subjecting gay persons to indignities when they seek goods and services in an open market.”

Time will tell when and how the next “Wedding Cake Case” or cases like it will be resolved. Read the Supreme Court decision at: www.lcappalli-familylaw.com/masterpiece-cakeshop-ltd-et-al-v-colorado-civil-rights-commission-et-al.

This article was previously published in the June 10, 2021 edition of “The Cheshire Citizen”.

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