In 2012, Jack Phillips, Christian and owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, declined to sell Charlie Craig and David Mullins a wedding cake based on his religious views against gay marriage. However, according to the New York Times, Phillips did not have a problem with the couple buying other bakery items from his store. As the case is being heard in the Supreme Court, opinions are as strong as ever.
The 21st century ushered in an era of social movements, from women’s marches to gay marriage. However, amidst this burgeoning of ideas, one thing remains constant: the line between discrimination and individual freedoms. And as the Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission case is well underway in the Supreme Court, this line has become more electrified than ever.
While this case is quite nuanced, I believe the decision boils down to the fact that Jack Phillips’ considers his cakes works of art, and every artist has the right to refuse a commission if it does not align with his creative vision.
In Hurley v. Irish-American Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Group of Boston, Inc. in 1993, a group of veterans organized a Saint Patrick’s Day Parade and declined to include a Gay/Lesbian/Bisexual Irish Group. The Supreme Court ruled, “[T]he Constitution looks beyond written or spoken words as mediums of expression… Symbolism is a primitive but effective way of expressing ideas,” according to oyez.org and Cornell Law Faculty Publications. This decision upheld the First and 14th Amendments. Thus, the same holds true for the Phillips: a wedding cake is more than just a baked good. It is symbolic of marriage and reflects the skill, style and perspective of the person who created it.
For example, imagine a couple wanted to hire an interior designer to decorate their home in a medieval fashion, but the designer specialized in modern decor. This project would clash with his/her image. The designer has the right not to provide his or her services on the grounds of artistic expression. However, the couple should be allowed to buy furniture from designer’s store.
Similarly in 2014, Marjorie Silva一a baker at Azucar Bakery一 refused to make a Bible-shaped cake with a homophobic message, and her decision was upheld in court. She did propose providing a blank Bible cake and a tube of frosting for the customer to use as he pleased, according to the New York Times. While some may argue that the Azucar case deals with the design of the cake and Phillips had a problem with the customers’ activity, the principle remains the same. Both people had a problem with the message, whether for or against gay marriage, associated with the work of art they were producing and should not be forced to create such works.
We’ve all seen the sign on the front of businesses stating “we reserve the right to refuse business to anyone.” This right is limited, however, to reasons excluding race, religion, or national origin as their basis, thanks to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, according to Legal Zoom. Yet, the law does not cover more arbitrary reasons, including appearance or sexuality, thus leading cases such as the 2012 Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission to court.
There is a fine line between freedom of speech and discrimination that people seem to miss. Jack Phillips argued that his refusal to serve the same-sex couple was about practice of religion as a business owner. Yet, there are several reasons why this defense is lacking and displays discrimination against his customers.
First of all, if Phillips refused business to one couple whose lifestyle he disagreed with, then it’s only fair that he refuses business to anyone who lives their life in one of the various ways that conflict with his specific religion and beliefs. But, if he did treat all customers equally and on this basis, he would have little to no business.
Secondly, Phillips argued that he considers his wedding cakes “works of art” and claimed that they are representative of marriage, thus being the reason he denied the product to the same-sex couple. While this argument is in line with his religion and he is entitled to his beliefs, I do not think that he was fair regarding this argument as the basis for his refusal. Religion is not an excuse for discrimination in any case, so it shouldn’t be for another person’s sexuality either.
This case is currently under review by the Supreme Court, and the progression of gay and human rights depends hugely on its decision. If it is ruled that denying service to someone based on religious beliefs is constitutionally legal, the threat of constant discrimination and denial of service will be introduced to not only the LGBT community, but also several other parties. Ultimately, we shouldn’t pick and choose the rights that will be granted to people based upon gender, race, nationality, sexuality, etc.- it’s either total equality or none at all.