December 6, 2017

by Katy Ray

Take it from a pro: marriage is not always a piece of cake. It takes loads of hard work, communication, empathy, and an arsenal of personal skills that takes years to develop. Some days, marriage can be the most beautiful experience two humans can share; other days, it can be a total nightmare.

Nevertheless, the Supreme Court ruled that gays and straights alike could legally take the plunge and enjoy all of the federal, state, and local benefits that accompany matrimony. Last June, we LGBTQ people danced in the streets, flew our rainbow flags high in the sky, and dreamed of a future where our relationships were just as valid as anyone else’s. Then we did what anyone else would do: we moved on, getting married and basking in all of our gay, glittery glory.

Until today. Today reminded us all that we have so much work left to do in the fight for equality and civil rights of queer persons. Today, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments regarding a separate but close cousin to the gay marriage debate: freedom of speech versus the gay rights. Yes, the extent to which we can live out our civil rights and liberties hang in the whims of 9 Supreme Court Justices, which is not an unfamiliar feeling to many minority Americans since its inception in 1790. Five of the nine Justices identify as conservatives. May the odds be ever in our favor.

For those of you just catching up or just coming out, let’s review the basics: in 2012, Dave Mullins and Charlie Craig, an engaged gay couple, were turned away by Jack Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Bakery in Colorado, based on the sole fact that they are two men. During their initial consult, Phillips, who didn’t realize the consult was for a gay couple, refused service as he quoted the Bible in his defense. Mullins and Craig were humiliated, and after shedding tears during what should have been a treasured moment of their wedding planning experience, they decided to take action.

They took their case first to The Colorado Civil Rights Commission, who decided that Masterpiece had violated Colorado’s Anti-Discrimination Act, which includes protections for citizens from discrimination due to sexual orientation. Phillips then appealed the decision and took the case to The Colorado Court of Appeals, which ruled that his religious beliefs do not justify his discrimination of same-sex couples. Although the Colorado Supreme Court refused to hear the case at all, the United States Supreme Court agreed to take it on, and that’s how we got here today.

For many of us, there is no debate: you simply can’t use your religious ideas and beliefs—or your own version of the first amendment—-to discriminate against persons based on identity indicators, such as race, sexuality, and in some states, sexual and gender orientation. But that’s exactly what this case is all about: exactly where does one draw the line between personal religious beliefs and the civil liberties of the other?

Well, Phillips’ lawyers argued today that the cake is a “message” and that the government can’t require Phillips to create a cake for gay persons, as it “violates his freedom of speech and his first amendment right.” While Phillips cites his Christianity as his basis for the discrimination, there are non-profit groups, such as The Reformation Project and The Gay Christian Network, who would argue that the teachings of Jesus of the Bible would not support the discrimination of people based on sexuality. These organizations’ missions promote inclusion of LGBTQ people, and encourage church teaching on sexual orientation and gender identity.

The dangers of allowing religion to justify discrimination are vast and many, as Mullins and Craigs’ lawyers were apt to point out. They argued that Mullins and Craig were treated as second class citizens, and were humiliated by the experience. Allowing a business to deny service to potential customers based on identity could pave a pathway toward a bleak future for LGBTQ Americans and other minorities alike.

After all, if we allow our “religious liberties” to excuse and support the discrimination of others, then we are setting ourselves up for a doomed society: one that is dualistic, isolated, and segregated. If we allow for cake masters to discriminate against the LGBTQ community, how far can that discrimination disseminate? How far can the argument of discrimination in the name of religious liberty extend?

A ruling on the case is set for June, ironically the month known for both weddings and gay pride.

Photo by Lola Snaps Photography

 Photo by Lola Snaps Photography