Statement on the Masterpiece Cakeshop Decision

From the Arizona Democratic Party’s LGBTQ Caucus:

The Supreme Court Of The United States ruling in the MASTERPIECE CAKESHOP, LTD. v. COLORADO CIVIL RIGHTS COMMISSION case did NOT give any person or business the right to discriminate based on their deeply held religious beliefs.  The court held that the process the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop experienced was inappropriate and unfair.  No laws have been changed because of this ruling.  No new rights have been established.  This decision, however, will be misinterpreted by many, and will, unfortunately, embolden some to openly discriminate against members of our LGBTQ community.  The LGBTQ Caucus of the Arizona Democratic Party wants you to know WE STAND WITH YOU.  We are here to protect you, advocate for you, and to help elect people who can best protect your rights to full equality under the law.

From the Supreme Court’s ruling:
“Our society has come to the recognition that gay persons and gay couples cannot be treated as social outcasts or as inferior in dignity and worth. For that reason the laws and the Constitution can, and in some instances must protect them in the exercise of their civil rights. The exercise of their freedom on terms equal to others must be given great weight and respect by the courts.”

Full text of the SCOTUS ruling:
Interpretation of SCOTUS ruling by Phoenix Attorney John Phebus, J.D.:
The Masterpiece Cake Shop case is very limited in scope and mostly stands for the proposition that everybody is entitled to a fair and objective hearing under the law, which the US Supreme Court concluded was denied to a Colorado cake baker.

In Masterpiece, a cake baker said that he would sell other products to a gay couple, but he would not sell a personal wedding cake that he made.  The cake maker advised that he was quite religious and that his “main goal in life is to be obedient to Jesus Christ and Christ’s teachings in all aspects of his life”.  Based on his interpretation of Christ’s teachings, he refused to make a wedding cake for the couple as he felt that would be an endorsement of same sex marriage. A complaint was filed under the Colorado civil rights law and a hearing was held before the Colorado Civil Rights Commission.

Seven commissioners heard testimony and made a final decision on the complaint. The US Supreme Court opinion was most concerned that several of the commissioners made overtly hostile remarks regarding religious beliefs. The court was quite clear, that the commissioners could not pick sides, pro-or anti-religion and they should have considered the Baker’s complaint without manifesting any bias towards or against religion:

Here is what one of the commissioners said:

*10  “I would also like to reiterate what we said in the hearing or the last meeting. Freedom of religion and religion has been used to justify all kinds of discrimination throughout history, whether it be slavery, whether it be the holocaust, whether it be—I mean, we—we can list hundreds of situations where freedom of religion has been used to justify discrimination. And to me it is one of the most despicable pieces of rhetoric that people can use to—to use their religion to hurt others.” Tr. 11–12.
And here is the Supreme Court’s response:
To describe a man’s faith as “one of the most despicable pieces of rhetoric that people can use” is to disparage his religion in at least two distinct ways: by describing it as despicable, and also by characterizing it as merely rhetorical—something insubstantial and even insincere. The commissioner even went so far as to compare Phillips’ invocation of his sincerely held religious beliefs to defenses of slavery and the Holocaust. This sentiment is inappropriate for a Commission charged with the solemn responsibility of fair and neutral enforcement of Colorado’s antidiscrimination law—a law that protects discrimination on the basis of religion as well as sexual orientation

Because the baker did not get a fair, neutral review of his complaint, the Supreme Court overturned the previous decision finding the complaint to be valid.

It is extremely important to note however, that Justice Kennedy, who wrote the opinion, made it clear that this did not mean there exists some blanket right to discriminate against the LGBTQ community.  Justice Kennedy wrote all of the important pro LGBTQ opinions in the last 20 years and it is extremely significant that he is the one who wrote this  Masterpiece opinion.  Some of the other language in this ruling is extremely positive and hopeful:

Our society has come to the recognition that gay persons and gay couples cannot be treated as social outcasts or as inferior in dignity and worth. For that reason the laws and the Constitution can, and in some instances must, protect them in the exercise of their civil rights.


Nevertheless, while those religious and philosophical objections are protected, it is a general rule that such objections do not allow business owners and other actors in the economy and in society to deny protected persons equal access to goods and services under a neutral and generally applicable public accommodations law.

Finally, the Supreme Court made it clear that this was not the final word on these type of disputes. We are going to have many years, in all likelihood, of these disputes while the courts try to thread the needle and balance the interests of both sides:

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.

Masterpiece, means that everybody needs to get a fair, neutral, and objective review of their complaint. It also means that if you are directly, personally, involved providing a specific service for an LGBTQ wedding, you may be able to credibly refuse to assist, by claiming a violation of your religious beliefs, however, Masterpiece, does not say and does not stand for the proposition that hotels, employers, and people engaged in commerce generally can refuse to do business with LGBTQ people. At most, it seems limited to the confines of the marriage ceremony itself.

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