Judges join Colorado baker on gay wedding cake

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court ruled on Monday for a Colorado baker who would not bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple in a limited decision that leaves for another day the broader question of whether a company can invoke religious objections to refuse service to gays and lesbians.

The judges’ decision touched on what the court described as an anti-religious bias by the Colorado Civil Rights Commission when it ruled against baker Jack Phillips. The justices voted 7 to 2 that the commission violated Phillips’ rights under the First Amendment.

The case had been eagerly awaited as, in various ways, a potentially strong statement on LGBT rights or the first court ruling providing exceptions to an anti-discrimination law. In the end, the ruling was modest enough to draw votes from both liberal and conservative justices on a topic that had the potential to be sharply divisive.

Justice Anthony Kennedy said in his majority opinion that the broader issue “must await further elaboration” in the courts. Appeals in similar cases are ongoing, including one to the Supreme Court from a florist who refused to provide flowers for a same-sex wedding.

Disputes, Kennedy wrote, “must be resolved with tolerance, without undue disrespect for sincere religious beliefs, and without subjecting homosexuals to indignities when seeking goods and services in an open market.”

The same-sex couple at the heart of the case, Charlie Craig and Dave Mullins, complained to the Colorado commission in 2012 after visiting Phillips’ Masterpiece Cakeshop in suburban Denver and the baker promptly told them that wouldn’t create a cake for their wedding. party. They married in Massachusetts because same-sex marriage was not yet legal in Colorado.

Colorado law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, and the commission found that Phillips’ refusal violated the law, despite Phillips’ argument that he opposes same-sex marriage on religious grounds. Colorado state courts upheld the decision.

But when the judges heard the arguments in December, Kennedy was clearly bothered by comments from a commission member that the judge said he was denigrating religion. The commissioner appeared “neither tolerant nor respectful of Mr. Phillips’ religious beliefs,” Kennedy said in December.

That same sentiment crossed his opinion on Monday. “The commission’s hostility was inconsistent with the First Amendment’s guarantee that our laws are enforced in a religion-neutral manner,” he wrote.

Liberal justices Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan joined the conservative justices in the result. Kagan wrote separately to highlight the limited decision.

Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor dissented. “There are many things in the court’s opinion that I agree with,” Ginsburg wrote of Kennedy’s repeated references to protecting gay rights. “I strongly disagree, however, with the court’s finding that Craig and Mullins should lose this case.”

The Trump administration intervened in the case on Phillips’ behalf, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions welcomed the decision. “The First Amendment prohibits governments from discriminating against citizens based on religious beliefs. The Supreme Court correctly found that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission failed to show tolerance and respect for Mr. Phillips’ religious beliefs,” Sessions said.

President Donald Trump was uncharacteristically vague about the decision, simply tweeting, “A great Supreme Court decision for Baker just came out! — more than 11 hours later.

Kristen Waggoner, the Alliance Defending Freedom lead attorney who argued Phillips’ case, said the court was correct in condemning the commission’s overt antagonism to Phillips’ religious beliefs regarding marriage.

Wagoner said Phillips is ready to sell off-the-shelf products to anyone who walks into his store. But “he simply refuses to express messages or celebrate events that violate his core beliefs,” she said.

Phillips was at his store Monday morning, where he was busy answering the phone and receiving congratulations from his followers in person, including his pastor. A woman brought him balloons and others kissed him.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which represented the couple in their legal fight, said it was satisfied the court did not approve a broad religion-based exemption from anti-discrimination laws.

“We read this decision as a reaffirmation of the court’s long-standing commitment to the protection of civil rights and that states have the power to protect everyone in America from discrimination, including lesbian people. , gay, bisexual and transgender,” said James Esseks, director. of the ACLU LGBT & HIV Project.

Wagoner and Esseks disagreed on the effect of the decision on Phillips’ wedding cake business. Wagoner said his client could take back his refusal to bake gay wedding cakes without fear of a new legal fight. But Esseks said if another same-sex couple asked Phillips for a wedding cake, “I see no reason in that opinion that Masterpiece Cakeshop is free to refuse them.”

Craig, one of the plaintiffs, said Monday night that he would continue to fight the discrimination. He told supporters at a rally at the Colorado Capitol that he and his partner took the case “because no one should have to face the shame, embarrassment and humiliation of make say ‘we don’t serve your species here’.”

Several other disputes are ongoing regarding wedding services, similar to the Phillips case. Besides florists, video producers and graphic designers are among business owners who say they oppose same-sex marriage on religious grounds and do not want to participate in same-sex marriages.

Barronelle Stutzman, a florist in Richland, Wash., appealed a state Supreme Court ruling that found she violated state law for refusing to provide wedding flowers to two men about to get married.

The judges could decide what to do with this appeal by the end of June.

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Associated Press writers P. Solomon Banda, Nicholas Riccardi and Thomas Peipert contributed to this report from Denver.

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