Court Rules Against Baker Who Refused to Make Cake for Gay Wedding

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Sep 11, 2015

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Same Sex Wedding CakeAs I wrote about earlier this year, a baker in Colorado became involved in a civil rights dispute when he refused to take orders for wedding cakes for same-sex weddings.

The baker, Jack Phillips, is an evangelical Christian and also refuses orders for Halloween baked goods, which he considers Satanic.

The Colorado Civil Rights Commission ruled that Phillips had violated a state law banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in “places of public accommodation.”

Philips admitted that his bakery was just such a “place of public accommodation.”

The Commission ordered the baker to retrain his employees (including his 87-year-old mother) to comply with the law.

In response, Phillips stopped taking wedding cake orders from anyone appealed to a state court.

The New York Times reports that a Colorado appeals court has ruled that Phillips can not cite his religious beliefs in refusing to make wedding cakes for same-sex couples.

Free Exercise of Religion

According to the decision, the case

juxtaposes the rights of complainants, Charlie Craig and David Mullins, under Colorado’s public accommodations law to obtain a wedding cake to celebrate their same-sex marriage against the rights of respondents, Masterpiece Cakeshop, Inc., and its owner, Jack C. Phillips, who contend that requiring them to provide such a wedding cake violates their constitutional rights to freedom of speech and the free exercise of religion.

In 2012, Craig and Mullins visited the bakery and requested that Phillips design and bake a cake to celebrate their wedding. He declined, saying that he didn’t make cakes for same-sex weddings, but offered them any of his other baked goods.

Colorado did not recognize same-sex marriages at the time, and the US Supreme Court had not yet issued its ruling making same-sex marriages legal nationwide. The couple planned to marry in Massachusetts, where same sex marriages were legal at the time, and to later celebrate with friends in Colorado.

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Cake Decoration as Artistic Expression

An administrative law judge found that

Phillips has been a Christian for approximately thirty-five years and believes in Jesus Christ as his Lord and savior. Phillips believes that decorating cakes is a form of art, that he can honor God through his artistic talents, and that he would displease God by creating cakes for same-sex marriages.

Phillips argued that he didn’t refuse to create the wedding cake because of Craig’s and Mullins’ sexual orientation but because of his opposition to same-sex marriage.

The appeals court found that because same-sex marriage is closely correlated to Craig’s and Mullins’ sexual orientation, the refusal was a violation of the state’s anti-discrimination law:

We conclude that the act of designing and selling a wedding cake to all customers free of discrimination does not convey a celebratory message about same-sex weddings likely to be understood by those who view it. We further conclude that, to the extent that the public infers from a Masterpiece wedding cake a message celebrating same-sex marriage, that message is more likely to be attributed to the customer than to Masterpiece.

As reported by the Times, Phillips’s lawyer said that the decision violated his client’s First Amendment rights to freedom of expression and religion.

“Cake decorating is his medium for creating art and they are compelling him to engage in artistic expression that violates his beliefs,” he said, noting that his client would likely appeal.

The Times also reported that a Christian-owned bakery in Oregon had been ordered to pay $135,000 in damages to a lesbian couple after refusing to bake them a wedding cake. That case is under appeal.

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