In yet another legal victory for same-sex couples over so-called “religious freedom” proponents, the Colorado Court of Appeals on Thursday ruled that a Denver-based baker cannot cite his Christianity as justification for turning away gay and lesbian customers.
The case was filed on behalf of David Mullins and Charlie Craig, a same-sex couple who in 2012 approached Masterpiece Cakeshop ahead of their wedding reception. At the time, same-sex marriage was not allowed in the state of Colorado, so the two went to Massachusetts for their formal nuptials. The couple planned to celebrate in their home state as well with a traditional wedding cake.
But Jack Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, declined to make the cake for Mullins and Craig, saying that doing so would violate his religious beliefs. The couple then filed a complaint with Colorado’s Civil Rights Commission, arguing that Phillips’ actions violated the state’s Anti-Discrimination Act, which prohibits businesses from refusing service based on race, sex, national origin, or sexual orientation. Most states have no such protections for their LGBT residents.
In 2013, an administrative judge ruled that the bakery had illegally discriminated against the couple. Less than a year later, the Colorado Civil Rights Commission affirmed that ruling. Now, the Colorado Court of Appeals has agreed.
“Masterpiece remains free to continue espousing its religious beliefs, including its opposition to same-sex marriage,” states Thursday’s opinion. “However, if it wishes to operate as a public accommodation and conduct business within the State of Colorado, CADA [the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act] prohibits it from picking and choosing its customers based on their sexual orientation.”
“Masterpiece remains free to continue espousing its religious beliefs, including its opposition to same-sex marriage. However, if it wishes to ... conduct business within the State of Colorado, CADA prohibits it from picking and choosing its customers based on their sexual orientation."'
Thursday’s decision marks the latest in a string of legal victories for same-sex couples, the most significant of which being June’s Supreme Court ruling that made marriage equality the law of the land. Those newfound marriage rights, however, have been a tough pill for some religious business owners to swallow, with several attempting to prove that providing services for a same-sex wedding constitutes a violation of their religious beliefs. Republican lawmakers at the state and federal level -- as well as many of the GOP presidential candidates -- have pledged to expand “religious freedom” protections in an effort widely perceived by LGBT advocates as geared toward enshrining discrimination into law.
So far, same-sex couples have triumphed over religious freedom claims in Oregon, New Mexico, and Washington -- all states that ban discrimination based on sexual orientation. Most states, however, do not.
Phillips' attorneys have said they would consider appealing all the way up the U.S. Supreme Court, which has proven to be particularly sensitive to religious freedom arguments in addition to those of same-sex couples. Last year, the high court handed down a major win for the “religious freedom” crowd with its controversial Hobby Lobby ruling that found closely-held corporations wouldn’t have to cover the cost of birth control for their employees if doing so violated the owners’ sincerely-held religious beliefs.
Many feared that decision would have significant repercussions for the LGBT community. But earlier this year, the justices declined to take up a religious freedom case out of New Mexico, where a photographer refused to shoot a same-sex commitment ceremony because she believed marriage was between one man and one woman. The move let stand a ruling from the New Mexico Supreme Court that found the photographer had violated the state’s anti-discrimination law.
In a statement, Ria Mar, staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union’s LGBT Project, celebrated Thursday’s decision as “a proud day for equality and for upholding the law.”
“In America, no one should be turned away from a shop or restaurant because of who they are or who they love,” said Mar, who argued the case on behalf of Mullins and Craig. “When every lesbian or gay person, every woman, every person of color, every person of every faith can walk into a store, a bank, a hospital, and know that they will get the same service as everyone else, we will have won. Until then, we continue to fight for the equal treatment we all deserve. Today we can celebrate this big win.”