"This has always been about more than a cake,” David Mullins told the New York Times earlier this summer. Mullins is referencing his now-famous court case Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, in which he and his partner, Charlie Craig, attempted to commission a wedding cake back in 2012 from Jack Phillips, owner and baker of Masterpiece Cakeshop right outside of Denver. When Phillips refused to fill the order, citing his right to "use his artistic talents to promote only messages that align with his religious beliefs," the couple filed a civil rights complaint arguing that Phillips's behavior was discriminatory. “Businesses should not be allowed to violate the law and discriminate against us because of who we are and who we love,” Mullins said in that same NYT interview.
If you've been following along for the past year, you know the widely-publicized case has been fraught with impassioned arguments from both sides, and now this week it has reached the docket of the Supreme Court. The Washington Post reported yesterday that "one hundred friend-of-the-court briefs have been filed and people began camping out Friday afternoon on the sidewalk in front of the Supreme Court to secure a spot for Tuesday’s oral arguments."
Two years post a SCOTUS ruling that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide, the judges must now decide whether the Constitution sides with the baker, allowing Phillips and other business owners who share his beliefs to deny services based on religious and/or moral objections, or the couple, who the same-sex couple, who say Colorado’s public accommodations law requires businesses to serve customers equally regardless of “disability, race, creed, color, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, or ancestry.”
We learned back in September that the Justice Department has voiced its backing of the baker. The Washington Post revealed that the Department of Justice filed a brief agreeing that "forcing Phillips to create expression for and participate in a ceremony that violates his sincerely held religious beliefs invades his First Amendment rights,” as written by Acting Solicitor General Jeffrey B. Wall.
Precedent tells us the ultimate decision could go either way. The Obergefell v. Hodges ruling of 2015 said the Constitution’s guarantee of due process and equal protection afforded same-sex couples the right to marry, and that same-sex couples may not be "denied the constellation of benefits that the states have linked to marriage," from justice Anthony M. Kennedy. Alternatively, the court ruled back in 2014 that "companies owned by people with religious objections could not be forced to provide government-mandated contraceptive services to female employees as part of their insurance coverage."
Kennedy wrote for that case that, "The First Amendment ensures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths."
Interestingly though, Phillips faith is not the backbone of his case, declared the Washington Post. Instead, his lawyers are arguing that his freedom of speech has been violated. Supposedly, a wedding cake, serving "as the iconic centerpiece of the marriage celebration, announces through Phillips’s voice that a marriage has occurred and should be celebrated,"according to the baker’s brief filed by the conservative legal organization Alliance Defending Freedom. “The government can no more force Phillips to speak those messages with his lips than to express them through his art.”
The Colorado Court of Appeals disputed this with a reasoning that "No one would regard the baker’s creation of a cake as an endorsement of same-sex marriage but only as complying with the law." In their brief, they mention that courts have longtime enforced anti-discrimination laws despite challenges from law firms, labor unions, private schools and universities, civic clubs, restaurants, and newspapers, and “Retail bakeries should fare no differently.”
With so much at stake for both sides of the debate, we'll see how the Supreme Court slices this one.