SCOTUS sides with Colorado bakery owner

The Supreme Court of the United States ruled in favor of a Colorado baker on Monday. The case, which had been promoted as a clash of LGBTQ rights versus religious freedom, saw the Court lean in favor of the shop owner Jack Phillips.

Justice Anthony Kennedy drafted the opinion. In a 7-2 decision, Kennedy stated that Colorado’s state Civil Rights Commission had gone too far in their decision against Phillips and his Masterpiece Cakeshop.

The New York Times quoted Kennedy as saying that the “neutral and respectful consideration to which Phillips was entitled was compromised here. The Civil Rights Commission’s treatment of his case has some elements of a clear and impermissible hostility toward the sincere religious beliefs that motivated his objection.”

Kennedy said that it was acceptable that the state of Colorado “can protect gay persons in acquiring products and services on the same terms and conditions that are offered to other members of the public, the law must be applied in a manner that is neutral toward religion.”

NPR noted that “The U.S. Supreme court dodged a major ruling on the question of whether business owners can refuse services to gay individuals based on their religious objections.”

In his ruling, Kennedy explained that the ruling was narrow, and that specific rulings on future cases may be different: “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 respect to sincere religious beliefs, and without subjecting gay persons to indignities when they seek goods and services in an open market.”

As would be expected, reaction to the ruling was mixed.

In interviews, Phillips has said he believes same-sex marriage is a sinful act. The two men who filed the complaint, Charlie Craig and David Mullins, described feeling humiliated when Phillips declined to serve them.

According to Steve Vladeck, a Supreme Court analyst and University of Texas law professor, “Today’s decision is remarkably narrow, and leaves for another day virtually all of the major constitutional questions that this case presented.”

Texas Senator Ted Cruz (R) tweeted “Today’s Supreme Court decision upholding a Colorado baker’s constitutional right to live according to his faith is a major victory for religious liberty. The fact that the decision was 7-2 (not a narrow 5-4) underscores that govt should NEVER discriminate against religious faith.”

In a statement on Twitter, the American Civil Liberties Union stated that “SCOTUS reversed the decision in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, based on concerns specific to the case. The Court did NOT rule that the Constitution gives a right to discriminate.”

Justice Clarence Thomas concurred in part. The Court judgment was 7-2, but opinion on the rationale of the case was 6-2.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor dissented. In her dissent, Ginsburg argued that the wedding cake celebrated marriage, “not a cake celebrating heterosexual weddings or same-sex weddings — and that is the service (the couple) were denied.”

The Trump Administration has sided with Phillips.