By David Vandygriff
Next month, Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission arrives at the Supreme Court of the United States. It’s the most crucial case for LGBTQ rights since the legalization of marriage equality in 2015.
Before the Justices hear arguments on 5 December, here’s everything you need to know.
In July 2012, Charlie Craig and David Mullins visited Masterpiece Cakeshop in Denver to order a wedding cake. However, owner Jack Phillips refused on the basis of his religion.
The couple filed a complaint to the Colorado Civil Rights Commission based on the state’s public accommodation law. This anti-discrimination act prohibits Colorado businesses open to the public from discriminating against customers on the basis of race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation.
Masterpiece appealed the lawsuit, which found in favor of Craig and Mullins. However, the Colorado Supreme Court affirmed the original decision. They deemed making a cake part of Phillips’ business model and therefore not protected by freedom of expression or religion.
After that, Masterpiece went higher and appealed to the Supreme Court and they agreed to hear it.
At the heart of this case is the conflict between discrimination and the First Amendment’s freedom of speech and religion clauses. Does Colorado’s anti-discrimination law violate Phillips’ First Amendment rights?
Phillips and his team are arguing the law discriminates against religion, especially since Craig and Mullins could obtain their cake elsewhere (which they did).
Meanwhile, the Commission and ACLU, who represent Craig and Mullins, counter by arguing the law is aimed at business conduct, not speech. Furthermore, Masterpiece can also include language explaining their services do not endorse expressions of speech associated with it.
This is not the first time these issues have conflicted. In 2014, Oregon determined a bakery violated a lesbian couple’s rights when they refused to make them a cake. That same year, the Supreme Court found in favor of Hobby Lobby. They decided closely held corporations can have religious exemptions.
The case has inspired passionate responses on both sides, from religious organizations to LGBTQ advocacy groups.
The Trump administration is siding with Masterpiece.
Craig and Mullins also have their own support team beyond the Commission and ACLU. HRC filed briefs of support with various businesses and chefs, and Senator Tammy Baldwin also filed a brief.
Experts say the judges will be divided on the case and Justice Kennedy may be the key vote. Previously, he wrote the majority decision for 2015’s Obergefell.
If the Justices find for Craig and Mullins, it will be an important step forward in protections for the LGBTQ community against discrimination.
However, if they find for Masterpiece on the basis of the First Amendment, it could open the floodgates for legalized discrimination, even beyond the LGBTQ community.