A U.S. Supreme Court decision in favor of a Colorado cake artist who refused to create a special cake for a homosexual wedding was based on government discrimination and hostility, but it did not answer a fundamental issue whether the kind of service provided by the cake baker can ever be refused to same-sex couples based on religious or philosophical objections.
For Christian-store owners or Christians in business, the ruling doesn’t overturn refusal of service and antidiscrimination civil rights laws. Services that do not require creative work and interpretation, such as Bible imprinting, engraving, or other sales and services, that are refused based on religious conviction could be challenged by social activists.
A homosexual couple sued Jack Phillips of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, Colorado, in 2012 because Phillips refused on religious grounds to create a cake for their wedding ceremony. Phillips did not refuse to sell products or services to them or other people but refused to use his creative art as part of the couple’s celebration. The couple sued, and the case went to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled this week.
The decision is being hailed as a major win because it called the state’s hostility to the baker’s religious faith unconstitutional. The Colorado Civil Rights Commission’s inconsistent treatment of religious discrimination and sexual-orientation discrimination demonstrated hostility and unfair treatment, the court said, calling hostile enforcement unconstitutional.
For example, one Colorado civil rights commissioner reportedly blamed religion and religious freedom for slavery and the Holocaust and called religious objection one of the most despicable pieces of rhetoric people can use. The court opinion held that such statements are inappropriate in a body charged with fair and neutral enforcement of Colorado’s anti-discrimination law.
However, because the Court didn’t rule that Phillip’s religiously motivated refusal to provide services was protected by the First Amendment, it allows such state commissions to reach the same results as long as they act with religious neutrality.
Law professors Douglas Laycock and Thomas Berg observed that the Court clearly stated that our society has recognized homosexuals and homosexual couples, and they cannot be treated as social outcasts or inferior in dignity and worth, referring to precedents set in the 1968 Piggie Park racial-equality ruling ensuring African-Americans equal access to public restaurants.
The Court also noted that Phillip’s refusal to serve the homosexual couple occurred before the Court recognized the constitutional right of same-sex couples to marry. Laycock and Berg believe that future cases will come before the Court to carefully calibrate the balance of antidiscrimination principles and religious liberty.
Various observers also have pointed out that the gay and lesbian community will continue to pursue legal action and statutory controls to prevent and outlaw religious objection to the homosexual lifestyle.