SCOTUS hears arguments in same-sex wedding cake case

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court today heard arguments in a case where a Colorado bakery refused to make a cake for a same-sex wedding. The decision when it comes later this year could have wide ranging effects on LGBTQ civil rights.

The Associated Press reported that the case pits Colorado baker Jack Phillips’ First Amendment claims of artistic freedom against the anti-discrimination arguments of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, and two men Phillips turned away in 2012. The state commission said that Phillips violated the state’s anti-discrimination law when he refused to make a wedding cake for Charlie Craig and David Mullins. The AP said this is the first gay rights case to be heard by the court since the marriage equality decision in 2015. The Trump administration has filed briefs in support of Phillips.

How the arguments went are actually up for debate, with many commentators thinking the court’s conservative majority was leaning toward ruling for the baker. SCOTUSBlog, one of the most reliable outlets that focus on the Supreme Court stated that in their coverage:

The other conservative justices who spoke during the argument – Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch – also seemed to favor Masterpiece’s arguments, while the court’s four more liberal justices largely supported the state and the same-sex couple. But even if there are five votes in favor of Masterpiece, it’s not clear how or whether the justices will draw a line that respects the religious beliefs of people like Phillips without opening up a Pandora’s box that, as Justice Stephen Breyer put it, could “undermine every civil rights law since year 2.”

Much of the focus was on Justice Kennedy, who had cast the deciding vote and written the opinion in the 2015 marriage equality case. The Washington Blade reported that he expressed skepticism of the Colorado non-discrimination law, but also sent conflicting messages.

From the Blade:

Kennedy also maintained “tolerance is essential” in society and accused the Colorado Civil Rights Commission of being “neither tolerant, nor respectful of Phillips’ religious beliefs,” noting a line in commission’s ruling calling the baker “despicable.” Kennedy also mentioned “other good bakery shops that were available.”

But Kennedy also questioned whether denial of wedding cake compromised the dignity of the couple — a principle of significant importance to the justice — and questioned why selling ready-made cake to couple wouldn’t be speech as opposed to custom cake. Kennedy also envisioned after a ruling in favor of the baker religious groups sending messages to bakeries to “not make cakes for gay weddings.”

One Iowa Executive Director Daniel Hoffman-Zinnel issued a statement supporting the Colorado Civil Rights Commission in this case. “LGBTQ people have no federal anti-discrimination protections, instead relying on a patchwork of state laws to protect their rights,” he said. “Colorado and Iowa are two of only nineteen states with laws that protect LGBTQ people from discrimination in public accommodations. This case could undermine our state’s protections for LGBTQ Iowans”

“Masterpiece Cakeshop is seeking a license to discriminate against LGBTQ people,” Hoffman-Zinnel continued. “No one should be turned away from a business because of who they are, and anti-discrimination laws like Colorado’s and Iowa’s ensure that everyone’s right to access goods and services available to the public are protected. The Supreme Court should rule in favor of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission.”

“We hope the Supreme Court will take the side of justice and fairness and preserve those laws that have advanced dignity and justice for historically marginalized communities,” said Equality Illinois CEO Brian Johnson. “Either way, we will continue to fight anti-LGBTQ discrimination with the tools available to us and defend the values that make Illinois a welcoming state for all people. We will fight for fairness, inclusion, and the freedom to be who you are without burden or discrimination.”