In a narrow U.S. Supreme Court ruling on June 4, 2018, seven of the court’s nine justices upheld the rights of a Colorado baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple. While the verdict sparked concern in some circles that it opened the door to allow business owners to broadly discriminate against same-sex couples, gay rights advocates believe that the ruling itself was actually more narrow than that.
In the underlying case, a baker, Jack Phillips, refused to bake a cake for a gay couple’s wedding. When the matter was challenged in a lower court, the court sided with the couple. This new Supreme Court ruling overturned that decision. However, rather than ruling that the First Amendment protects a baker’s right to refuse to make a wedding cake, as the baker contended, the Supreme Court’s ruling seems to hinge on anti-religious sentiments expressed by members of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission (the “Commission.”).
In 2014, the Commission ruled that Phillips had broken Colorado’s public accommodations law. That ruling required him to bake cakes for same-sex weddings and meet certain other requirements including educating his staff on civil rights laws. The Supreme Court’s decision overruled those requirements. In its majority opinion, the court referenced what the justices perceived as the Commission’s clear and impermissible hostility toward Phillips’ religious beliefs.
Same-sex advocacy groups do not believe this decision paved the way for all business owners to cite moral or religious grounds for refusing to provide goods and services to same-sex people. The majority recognized and stated that such a result would be wholly inconsistent with civil rights laws. Still, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi indicated that she intends to pursue federal non-discrimination legislation that would protect the rights of same-sex people and couples.