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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, June 28, 2019 - Volume 47 Issue 26
SCOTUS sends wedding cake case back to lower court
Section One
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SCOTUS sends wedding cake case back to lower court

Baker claimed religious exemption to anti-discrimination laws

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

The US Supreme Court has passed on an opportunity to clarify whether people who provide commercial services can turn away LGBT customers based on private religious convictions.

In a June 24 decision, the high court said it would not hear the appeal of an Oregon baker, but instead sent the case back to the court of origin. In a similar case last year, the justices ruled 5-4 in favor of the Colorado baker who turned away a Gay couple, but only on the narrowest of possible grounds - that one member of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission made a remark that could be construed as evidence of anti-religious bias.

In this case, the high court instructed the original trial court to revisit the issue with the Supreme Court's previous decision in mind.

The latest case involves Sweetcakes by Melissa, a custom cake business operated by Melissa and Aaron Klein outside Portland, Oregon. They were asked by a Lesbian couple, Rachel and Laurel Bowman-Cryer, to create a cake for their wedding.

The Kleins declined, on the grounds that their religion does not recognize same-sex marriages, and Bowman-Cryers filed a complaint charging that the bakery violated Oregon anti-discrimination laws. Their complaint was upheld, and the Kleins were fined $135,000. As a result, the Kleins closed their shop.

The case would have given the court's conservative majority the chance to expand upon its narrow 2018 decision in favor of Jack Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop; however, the justices chose not to do so.

The Oregon challenge went further than the Colorado one because it asked the Supreme Court to overturn its nearly 30-year-old precedent that religious beliefs cannot overcome the need to comply with a law that applies neutrally to everyone.

The underlying legal issue is not limited to cakes and bakers but applies to other creative commercial establishments, such as florists, photographers, and videographers. The question for the high court is whether they can refuse commercial services available to opposite-sex couples.

Their decision to pass on a comprehensive ruling and send the case back to the trial court saves the Kleins from having to pay the fine, at least for now.

Right-wing legal groups filed friend-of-the-court briefs supporting the Kleins, just as they have defended other religious exemption claims involving abortion, contraception, public prayer, and religious displays.

On the other side, LGBT rights groups argued in support of laws in 22 states barring discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Oregon regulators cited that state's anti-discrimination law in ruling against and fining the Kleins.

Insiders speculated that the high court is more likely to hear a different case raising the same issue - a dispute between a florist in Washington state and a Gay couple - later this year or in 2020.

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