Supreme Court sided with Colorado baker over gay wedding cake

WASHINGTON- A divided Supreme Court on Monday absolved a Colorado baker of discrimination for refusing to create a personalized wedding cake for a same-sex couple.

The verdict criticized the state’s handling of Jack Phillips’ religious objections to same-sex marriage, ruling that a civil rights commission was biased against him.

The ruling did not resolve whether other same-sex marriage opponents, such as florists and photographers, can deny commercial wedding services to same-sex couples.

Judge Anthony Kennedy wrote the court’s 7-2 ruling against the same-sex couple, departing from his long history of pro-gay rights views stretching back a generation. Among them was the 2015 court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide.

“The outcome of cases like this in other circumstances must await further elaboration by the courts,” Kennedy said. “These disputes 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.”

Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor voiced the only dissents. Fellow Liberal Justices Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan voted with the majority.

Kennedy felt that Phillips, by refusing to create a gay wedding cake, had good reason to believe he was within his rights. State law at the time gave marketers some leeway to opt out of specific messages, such as those degrading gay people and same-sex marriages.

The government cannot impose regulations hostile to citizens’ religious beliefs, the ruling said.

During oral argument in December, Kennedy and other conservative justices had expressed concern about the potential effect on other businesses with strong religious objections to same-sex marriage, from chefs to florists.

The five-year legal battle between Phillips and his clients Charlie Craig and David Mullins represented a test between the Constitution’s freedom of speech and religious guarantees and laws in 22 states prohibiting discrimination against the LGBT community.

Phillips, 62, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, was fighting for the right of “creative artists” to choose what they would sell. Craig, 37, and Mullins, 33, were fighting for the right of LGBT customers to choose what they would buy.

Craig and Mullins won in the Colorado Civil Rights Commission and the state Court of Appeals, thanks to the state’s inclusion of sexual orientation in its anti-discrimination law. Twenty-one other states have similar laws.

But the Supreme Court, bolstered last April by the addition of stalwart conservative and fellow Coloradoman Neil Gorsuch, posed a tougher test.

The High Court had already ruled twice on the subject of same-sex marriage. In 2013, he ruled that the federal government must recognize gay and lesbian marriages in the 12 states that had legalized them. In 2015, he extended same-sex marriage nationwide.

But even as he authored the court’s landmark decision, Kennedy extended an olive branch to religious conservatives.

“It must be emphasized that religions and those who adhere to religious doctrines can continue to stand in the strongest and sincerest conviction that, according to divine precepts, same-sex marriage is not to be tolerated,” Kennedy wrote in 2015.

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