Why Is the Masterpiece Cakeshop Case a National LGBT Rights Issue?

A wedding cake seems unlikely to become a national gay rights and free speech issue, but that’s precisely the case  the Supreme Court will analyze this week, as justices deliberate over whether cake shops and related services should have a license to discriminate.

Masterpiece Cakeshop, LGBT rights and free speech

On December 5, the Supreme Court will hear Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission and deliberate over whether applying Colorado’s gay-inclusive nondiscrimination laws — specifically, its public accommodations provisions — unconstitutionally compelled the petitioner to violate his religious beliefs and First Amendment rights.

At the heart of this case is a seemingly simple issue: In 2012, Denver cake shop owner Jack Phillips refused to make a wedding cake for Charlie Craid and David Mullins. The couple then sought relief through Colorado’s civil rights division, claiming that they had experienced unlawful discrimination. The civil rights division and the state courts agreed.

Normally, the matter might have ended there. But, with the self-described Christian legal group Alliance Defending Freedom behind him, Phillips has now made this a national issue.

A narrow case? That depends who you ask

Phillips believes that, as art, his wedding cakes represent a significant extension of his own personal beliefs and speech. As such, a requirement to make wedding cakes for same-gender couples would violate his deeply held religious beliefs and create an unconstitutional burden by implying that he supports same-gender marriage.

At the same time, though, Phillips contends that he provides other goods for same-gender couples — like cakes for baby showers. He claims to simply want an exemption from creating goods associated with same-gender marriage. Phillips also points out that the couple could have gone elsewhere to get a wedding cake, meaning that they did not experience an unusual burden.

The Alliance Defending Freedom has routinely taken on cases that would undermine marriage equality and trans rights, so this debate is part of a much wider battle. It’s also worth noting the Southern Poverty Law Center has designated the ADF as a hate group from its long history of anti-LGBT statements and actions.

In yet another stark reversal from the Obama administration’s position, the Trump administration has backed Phillips’ case –therefore siding with a hate group. Justice Department officials maintain that this narrow exemption would not impact gay people, only reaffirming religious rights.

“Forcing Phillips to create expression for and participate in a ceremony that violates his sincerely held religious beliefs invades his First Amendment rights,” the Justice Department contends in its amicus brief on this issue. “In the view of the United States, a … First Amendment intrusion occurs where a public accommodations law compels someone to create expression for a particular person or entity and to participate, literally or figuratively, in a ceremony or other expressive event.”

The Trump administration maintains that compelling Phillips to make cakes for same-gender couples would mean others also have to provide goods for groups that they may not agree with — for example, products with Nazi slogans or other clearly offensive articles.

Not all legal analysts are convinced by this line of argument, however.

The ACLU, which has a notable record of defending free speech rights for both the political left and right, backs the same-gender couple in this case.

The group contends that this seemingly small exemption could be widened to harm LGBT couples in many other realms. For example, several others cases have tried to carve out exemptions from providing services like flowers, photography and wedding venues. And it would be difficult to forget Kim Davis, who tried to use her religious beliefs as reason to withhold same-gender marriage licenses.

The ACLU also contends that if the Court rules in favor of Masterpiece Cakeshop, all other protected classes could then be discriminated against based on the service provider citing personal religious beliefs.

“Our clients in the Masterpiece case have already felt the stinging harm of being turned away from a business simply because of who they are, a harm that no one should ever have to endure,” James Esseks, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s LGBT and HIV Project, explained. “A ruling in this case to give businesses the right to refuse service to customers would shatter longstanding non-discrimination laws and have wide impacts on religious and racial minorities, single mothers, people with disabilities, and others. ”

The ACLU is joined by over 50 businesses in signing on to a statement calling on the Supreme Court to affirm the dignity of LGBT people. The word dignity holds a specific meaning, as it was this notion that the Supreme Court expressed when it ruled in 2015 that same-gender marriage bans are unconstitutional. The ACLU emphasizes that granting business owners the ability to discriminate based on private religious views does not enhance their religious expression. Instead, it only curtails the constitutional rights of others and renders them second-class citizens.

This will be the first major test of a gay rights issue since the same-gender marriage ruling — and also since Neil Gorsuch filled the seat left by Justice Antonin Scalia. While Scalia was infamous for his “dead” reading of the Constitution and his notable trend of ruling against LGBT rights, Gorsuch also has a track record of anti-LGBT positions. And he’s already noted his skepticism of the Obergefell ruling.

While, legally speaking, this case might appear narrow, the fallout could be anything but. And the coming ruling could prove to be a decisive moment either in defending civil liberties or eroding them in the name of a so-called religious right to discriminate.

Photo credit: Thinkstock.


Karen H
Karen H9 hours ago

If baking a cake for a gay wedding is endorsing homosexuality, then voting for a pedophile is endorsing pedophilia.

Elaine W
Elaine W12 hours ago

I don't recall Jesus, the Christ being mean and nasty or discriminatory in the New Testament. It is a strange belief system to harm fellow children of God, who are loved as much as the self righteous, by the way.

Ellie M
Ellie Myesterday


Karen H
Karen Hyesterday

Those who claim serving same-sex couples violates their religious rights, they should check their Bibles again. Check this out: http://www.religioustolerance.org/ashford01.htm

Marija M
Marija Myesterday


Graham P
Graham P1 days ago

Steve keep us informed of the hopefully a positive outcome for LGTB.

Amanda M
Amanda M2 days ago

Pam W, we still have discrimination against Wiccans and Pagans in this country, and it's going to get even worse under Twitler's regime! There are still plenty of part of the US where if you are Wiccan/Pagan, it's either stay in the broom closet or else you get persecuted or worse. And we get everything from students in schools being harassed and persecuted by CHINOs trying to "convert" them to Christianity to Wiccans/Pagans being fired from their jobs (their employers manage to do an end run around the First Amendment and EEOC regs by faking complaints about job performance or other sinister acts of that nature), losing their rental housing or being harassed by neighbors (it happened to the co-leaders of a coven I belonged to 16 years ago-they were evicted because of "noise complaints" after the upstairs tenants found out about their religion), or even had their children taken from them in custody battles by "Christian" judges who didn't approve of the Wiccan/Pagan parent's religious beliefs. Don't even get me started on the incidences of cops pulling over vehicles with Wiccan/Pagan bumper stickers on them and using the opportunity to aggressively proselytize to the drivers! Just Google "Wiccan Persecution" and see what the computer throws at you-it's UGLY, and it's still going on today! Imagine what the Supreme Court ruling in favor of "religious freedom" in cases like this could do-the LAST thing we need is religious bigots getting carte blanche to

Robert Fitzgerald
Robert F2 days ago

We are coming up on the Age of Aquarius. The Progressive Millennium of Christ. This means that Age of Pisces religions like Christianity, Islam, ETC. are all coming to their end as we know them. What is coming is an Aquarius secular-spirituality that is Aquarius non-traditional and radical. What then constitutes religious freedom? Certainly freedom of traditional religions to continue to practice while they can. BUT it ALSO has to include a new revolutionary religious freedom that is progressive, liberal, humanistic Aquarius in nature and direction. Secularism is not religious in the Pisces large religious institution dogmatic sense, but it is highly spiritual in the personal sense of genius as personal gods, or humanism as the outcome of the repeated Biblical promises that we ARE all gods ourselves. To refuse to engage in commerce with an Aquarian element from an outgoing Pisces stance is highly sinful religious discrimination. To refuse a woman a requested abortion is to shut down her religious freedom to seek the best Aquarian pathway for her and possibly having children for creating Aquarius QUALITY families and communities as opposed to the soon to be outdated Pisces concern merely for large numbers of children regardless of family quality.

pam w
pam w2 days ago

I don't care if he wants to discriminate but he really SHOULD put up a sign which lists all the people he will serve. That will avoid any issues....unless, of course, it's his intention (and secret pleasure) to HUMILIATE same-gender couples?

pam w
pam w2 days ago

Next thing you know...it's going to be Muslims excluded because of someone's ''religious beliefs." Wonder how they'd feel if we posted labels on their bakery..."FREE TO DISCRIMINATE?"