What the Colorado cake case really means

Few issues have been as debated in recent months as the legal case against

the Colorado bakery owner who refused to prepare and decorate a wedding cake for a gay couple. Contrary to some views, the issue is not simple, as shown by the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision ignoring the broad definition of when a business owner can refuse service.

Most of us would agree that a business should serve the public. That doesn’t mean, however, that the owner should be required to serve every single individual requesting a service. A bartender, for instance, has every right to refuse service to a drunk or unruly patron. An owner has a right to refuse service to a customer who doesn’t pay his bill.

But does an owner have a right to refuse service to a customer based on his or her religious or racial views? Almost all of us would agree that a customer should not be turned down due to his or her race, and a survey from the Public Religion Research Institute found that 60 percent of Americans oppose a business refusing service due to a religious belief.

The problem in the Colorado wedding cake case is that the baker did not refuse to serve gay couples. He was very willing to sell them any baked item in his store. His problem was with the artistic decoration on top of the cake celebrating a practice his faith opposed.

The “artistic” work is relevant. If a white suprema- cist entered a tailor shop and asked to have a suit fitted for an anti-Semitic gathering, refusing his order is probably discriminatory. Sure, the tailor might not like the man or his views, but that is not a good reason to not fit the guy for a suit.

On the other hand, an art- ist should have the right not to paint a poster that blares out “Kill the Jews!”

The Supreme Court skirted the broad issue of refusing service. It based its ruling on a government com- mission member’s comment debasing some past religious

practices. Without these comments, the Court could well have ruled in a different manner.

Acceptance of change
is not easy. It took many years for black citizens to be welcomed in Deep South restaurants and there are still Americans who oppose interracial marriages. I suspect that 20 years from now we will still see legal wrangling about a business owner refusing service.

Justice Anthony Kennedy understood the complexities of the wedding cake argu- ment. He wrote, “These disputes must be resolved with tolerance, without undue disrespect to sincere religious beliefs and without subjecting gay persons to indignities when they seek goods and service in an open market.”

Well said, Justice Kennedy.


What others say about : What the Colorado cake case really means..


Your examples are not comparable to the gay cake case. Nondiscrimination laws do not protect anti-Semites, so a business could legally refuse them service. Nondiscrimination laws do not force any artist to create a “Kill the Jews” poster. If the artist refuses to sell such a poster to anyone, he is within the law.

Phillips wants to be able to sell wedding cakes to opposite-sex couples, but not same-sex couples. Refusing to sell a product to customers in a protected group but selling it to others not in that group is what is discriminatory.

If Phillips starts selling wedding cakes again and refuses to sell them to same-sex couples, I’m sure he will be back in court. The next time the state will rule against him again but will be very careful to avoid any religious hostility.

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