Court could restrict equal rights to public accommodations
by Mike Andrew -
SGN Staff Writer
The US Supreme Court heard arguments in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission on December 5.
The case, in which the State of Colorado brought a civil rights complaint against a baker who refused to provide a wedding cake for a Gay couple, could limit the access of LGBT people to public accommodations.
In 2012, Charlie Craig and David Mullins entered Masterpiece Cakeshop in Denver, hoping to buy a cake for their wedding reception. Before any specifics of design or other details could be discussed, baker Jack Phillips informed the couple that Masterpiece would not sell products to same-sex couples.
Craig and Mullins brought a complaint to the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, which found that Phillips had violated the state's anti-discrimination law, which bars discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, among other causes.
Phillips then appealed the commission's ruling, citing First Amendment religious and free speech protections.
Craig and Mullins, supported by the state Civil Rights Commission, argued that as a business open to the public, the cake shop had an obligation to offer them goods and services on the same basis as any other customer.
'It is hard to overstate the implications of this case,' said David Cole, legal director of the ACLU, who argued on behalf of the plaintiffs before the high court.
'Jack Phillips has claimed he has a First Amendment right to discriminate against same-sex couples. He does not. Businesses open to the public may not choose their customers. These laws ensure that everyone, including gay people, have the freedom to walk into a business and know that they will be treated the same way. A decision against Charlie and Dave would allow businesses across the country to argue that they too can refuse service based on who the customer is. As we argued in court today, the justices have an obligation to defend the principle of equal dignity under the law for all Americans - including Dave and Charlie.'
'If the Supreme Court gives businesses a constitutional right to discriminate, it would have implications that reach far beyond bakeries,' Ineke Mushovic, executive director of the Movement Advancement Project (MAP), added.
'If the Court carves out a broad exemption in nondiscrimination laws for so-called 'creative' enterprises, we could see an explosion of discrimination by restaurants, hair salons, event venues, funeral parlors, and more. And the impact of such a decision wouldn't be limited to LGBT people; it could be used to allow discrimination against people of color, women, minority faiths, people with disabilities, and others.'
Questions from justices during the hour-and-a-half oral argument focused on exactly those questions. Justice Anthony Kennedy, who wrote the court's Windsor and Obergefell rulings, gave both sides 'reason for hope and concern,' according to the Associated Press.
Kennedy worried that ruling for the baker would allow shops to put up window signs saying they refuse to provide wedding services for same-sex couples. But he also said Colorado had been 'neither tolerant nor respectful' of the baker's religious convictions.
Several justices questioned what other types of business owners would be exempt if the court made an exception for Phillips.
'Who else is an artist?' asked Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. What about a florist, a chef, or a makeup artist? asked Justice Elena Kagan.
Meanwhile, 75 human rights organizations joined in the Open to All campaign to support the right of all people to public accommodations and services. The campaign includes the ACLU, the Anti-Defamation League, Color of Change, GLAAD, the HRC, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF), the National Black Justice Coalition, the National Center for Transgender Equality, Pride At Work AFL-CIO, and other groups.
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