Supreme Court agrees to hear appeal in same-sex couple wedding cake case

WASHINGTON (NBC News) — The U.S. Supreme Court agreed Monday to hear an appeal from a Colorado bakery that refused to make wedding cakes for same-sex couples.

Florists, bakers, photographers, and other businesses have cited religious and free-speech objections in refusing to serve gay and lesbian customers in the wake of the Supreme Court’s 2015 same-sex marriage decision. But those claims have not fared well in court.

In the current case, two men filed a complaint against Jack Phillips of Masterpiece Cakeshop in suburban Denver after he refused to make a cake for their wedding reception. “Jack Phillips is an artist,” his lawyers said. “The wedding cake serves as a central expressive component at most weddings.”

Phillips runs his cake business guided by religious principles, closing on Sunday and refusing to make cakes containing alcohol or celebrating Halloween. He said requiring him to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple would violate his religious views.

But Colorado courts ruled that the state’s public accommodation law, which bans discrimination by companies offering their services to the public, did not allow Phillips to refuse the gay couple’s request. A reasonable person would assume the cake expressed the message of the couple, not the person who made it, the courts said.

The ACLU, representing the couple, David Mullins and Charlie Craig of Denver, said the two never discussed what kind of design, if any, they wanted on their cake, diminishing Phillips’s claim that his freedom of expression was at stake.

If Phillips prevails, “any business could claim a safe harbor from any commercial regulation simply by claiming that it believes complying with the law would send a message with which it disagrees,” the ACLU said.

The civil rights group said Colorado’s law “applies to all businesses that offer goods or services to the general public and merely requires that they not discriminate.” It does not require a business to affirm its support for any of the groups protected by the law, the ACLU said.
In 2014, the Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal from a New Mexico photographer who refused her services for a same-sex commitment ceremony and was found to have violated that state’s anti-discrimination law. Washington’s state supreme court ruled unanimously in February that a florist violated state law by refusing to sell flowers to a gay couple for their wedding.
The court will hear the case in the fall.

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