Though you can buy recreational marijuana in the Denver, Colorado, you might have some trouble buying a wedding cake in Lakewood, Colorado, if you're a same-sex couple. The Supreme Court reversed a Colorado court decision which ruled Jack Phillips of Masterpiece Cakeshop violated state discrimination laws when he refused to bake a cake for the 2012 wedding reception of David Mullins and Charlie Craig. I'm sure you didn't need the rehash. Everybody knows the case. At any rate, the Supreme Court reversed the state ruling on a 7-2 vote Monday, saying the Civil Right Commission, who filed the suit on behalf of the couple, was hostile toward Phillips' religious objection.
I actually wrote about this very case in an opinion piece when it was first sent to the Supreme Court, and there's not much that's changed in my mind since then. There was a can of worms waiting to be opened no matter how the Supreme Court used their can openers. If the ruling had been in favor of Mullins and Craig, there would have been even more government control of individual businesses. Now that the ruling is in favor of Phillips, it's just a hop skip and a jump to being able to deny service to any group you like, so long as you have a religion to back it up — and don't forget, there's more than 200,000 people worldwide whose official religion is Jedi Knight, so you can tailor your religion to fit your business model or have a science fiction writer make it up for you…I'm looking at you L. Ron Hubbard.
A lot of people don't want Phillips to be forced to make the cake. In my mind, that's quite a bit too close to the diners of years past that didn't like the government telling them to serve black people — and don't think for a moment none of them objected on religious basis. And just like minorities have been recognized as a spectrum of groups it is illegal to discriminate against, so has the LGBTQ community been recognized. On the other hand, when we're told how and when we are able to use our freedom of speech — which is what Phillips contends his pastry creations are — they cease to become rights at all. So, the overall situation isn't as cut and dry as we might like it to be.
Now, you might say we as citizens have a right to disagree and refuse to obey laws we perceive as injustice on the part of our government.
And I wouldn't disagree.
But, if we say Phillips should be able to refuse to play a role in ceremonies he objects to, then we should very much be questioning why we're so upset when athletes refuse to play a part in ceremonies they object to as well. You know what I'm talking about. You see, anyway I turn this issue, there's an arm of it that comes back to punch me in the nose.
Take my wedding cake for example. The cake for Mullins and Craig was intended for a reception being held in Colorado after the wedding took place in Massachusetts. One of my wedding cakes made separately for the gift-opening reception the day after my wedding. Where the Colorado cake was to be made by a Christian, my cake was made by a Muslim. We knew her well. We had gone to school with her daughter. She makes great cakes. And that's of course the cake you see printed with this column. She could have refused to make the cake on religious grounds, assumably disagreeing with Christianity, but she didn't. However, by the Supreme Court's ruling, she would have been justified in doing so, which I think greases an already slippery slope. Any baker, Muslim, Hindu or atheist now has legal ammo to justify refusing service to a Christian. Not necessarily for a wedding. Not necessarily for a cake. Not necessarily for any consumable good. It could extend to any service or product in any industry, so long as it's on religious grounds. Again, on the other hand, I'm not sure you would want someone who is likely angry after being cornered by state or federal laws to be making your food in the first place.
We didn't have that problem, of course, and the cake was served at our reception.
Notice how the duck bride and the duck groom are a reference to Bahamut the bull. If you didn't catch the reference, don't worry. It's only because the cake had nothing to do with the baker's belief system. As it turns out, baked goods can be made without being a statement of support. To his credit, Phillips also demonstrated he knew that fact.
According to the court documents, Phillips offered to make the couple anything but a wedding cake, because a wedding cake would have been too celebratory of their wedding for his conscience — in fact part of his defense hinged on his refusal being about the wedding and not sexuality.
The documents say he actually offered to design, create and sell them any other product in his bakery. I'm not sure how you measure the celebratory nature of say a large frosted cookie against that of a wedding cake in a court of law, but he apparently drew the line at cakes. He was just refusing to sell them a particular product, not refusing service outright — and again, looking back on history, that statement is getting a bit too close to the idea of separate but equal for my taste.
Which is why I found Justice Anthony Kennedy's remarks on behalf of the majority so confusing.
"Colorado law can protect gay persons, just as it can protect other classes of individuals, in acquiring whatever products and services they choose on the same terms and conditions as are offered to other members of the public," he wrote.
To me that's exactly what the state did. Kennedy said "whatever products or services." That's an all encompassing term and therefore includes wedding cakes. So the issue was brought to the court and the court defended the party who was refused "whatever" service, but the highest court in the land shot them down because there was perceived hostility toward the motivation behind the refusal.
I'm no lawyer, so I can't claim to understand everything going on in this case, but if it had been any other constitutionally protected group, that would sound ludicrous. I would be shocked if a court reversed a decision because a plaintiff was hostile toward the practice of antisemitism. In the end, perhaps somewhat ironically, the court was left to take a page out of Phillips' recipe book and protest the intended action rather than the underlying belief.
That's not to say things couldn't change in the future.
I made mention of the 1943 Supreme Court Case Minersville School District v. Gobitis in my earlier column. The court ruled no one, including Jehovah's Witnesses, were exempt from saluting the flag during the Pledge of Allegiance. Then Kingdom Halls began to be burned and religious leaders and their families were mistreated. The decision was reversed three years later and three of the same justices who initially voted in the affirmative changed their mind the second time around.
I'd like to think that decision was made so the law would protect and serve the greatest number of people. It's possible the same could happen with the Masterpiece Bakery decision. We can only hope in the long run, the most people are served well by the court's decision.