License to discriminate? US Supreme Court hears gay wedding cake case

The US Supreme Court is considering whether or not a baker is allowed to refuse to make a cake for a same-sex wedding, in a case that could have major implications for LGBTQ Americans.

The matter involves Jack Phillips, owner of Colorado’s Masterpiece Cakeshop, who in 2012 refused to make a wedding cake for a gay couple, Dave Mullins and Charlie Craig.

The couple filed a complaint against Phillips and, in 2014, Colorado’s Civil Rights Commission found him guilty of discrimination, ordering him to not turn away same-sex couples who requested wedding cakes.

Citing his religious beliefs and his right to freedom of expression, Phillips fought the ruling but lost in the Colorado Supreme Court.

Backed by Alliance Defending Freedom, a recognised hate group, as well as the Trump administration, Phillips has now taken the matter all the way to America’s highest court.

On Tuesday, Supreme Court justices heard arguments in the case. Phillips’ lawyer told the court that by baking the cake Phillips would have in essence endorsed same-sex marriage.

Representing the Trump administration, Solicitor General Noel J. Francisco, rejected the argument that refusing to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding is the same as refusing to bake a wedding cake for an interracial couple. “Race is particularly unique,” Francisco said.

It was further claimed that Phillips, as a baker, is also an artist and is thus protected when it comes to his freedom of speech and expression.

Phillips says he will sell off-the-shelf cakes to gay clients, but is entitled to refuse to produce a custom made cake that violates his beliefs. He insists that he does not discriminate against gay people per se but rather objects to same-sex marriage.

The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) said the case is one of the most significant Supreme Court cases of the year, and the outcome “could have sweeping consequences for every single LGBTQ American and millions of others”.

The ruling, which is expected to be announced next June, will either protect the fundamental equality of LGBTQ Americans, or it could set a dangerous precedent giving businesses a license to discriminate, said the group.

“The Trump-Pence administration’s decision to back discrimination in this case is another attack in their all-out war against the LGBTQ community,” commented HRC President Chad Griffin.” At every turn, they have sought to undermine the civil rights of LGBTQ people. It’s crucial that the justices reject discrimination and stand on the side of fairness and equality.”

“In the United States, businesses that are open to the public get to decide what to serve, but not who they serve,” said HRC Legal Director Sarah Warbelow.

“The ramifications of allowing people to pick and choose who they will serve could have severe consequences not only for LGBTQ people, but other minorities as well. Such a decision would put into jeopardy long-standing laws against discrimination across the country,” she added.

The HRC submitted two major amicus briefs in the case featuring leading bakers, and chefs; as well as top businesses who oppose discrimination against LGBTQ people.

“They joined together to relay a very simple message: businesses must welcome all,” explained HRC. “If a business is open on main street, it must be open to everyone, regardless of who they are or whom they love.”

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