The calendar year may be ending soon, but the United States Supreme Court is just getting started. On Tuesday, December 5, the Supreme Court will hear a case that could drastically set back the accomplishments the LGBTQ+ community has gained thus far. In 2012, David Mullins and Charlie Craig went to Masterpiece Cakeshop, owned by Jack Phillips, to order a cake for their upcoming wedding reception. However, the couple left the bakery with a bitter taste in their mouth as Phillips refused to make their wedding cake due to his religious beliefs that only a man and a woman should be married. This case reaches the Supreme Court just two years after same-sex marriage was legalized across the United States, and seems to many as if we are backtracking from that progress our country made.
Mullins and Craig immediately took action against this case and cited that they cannot be denied service due to their sexuality, and the Colorado Court of Appeals, and state’s Civil Rights Commission, agreed. So why is this still an issue? Phillips believes himself to be protected under the First Amendment under religious liberty, and if forced to create a wedding cake for same-sex couples, he will be stripped of his right. There is no denying that personally, he has religious freedom and the right to disagree with same-sex couples. However, there is a difference between his personal rights and the rights of his business. This is what the Supreme Court will need to decide as they agreed to take up Phillips appeal. Do businesses have the same legal rights as a natural citizen, and thus, is Masterpiece Cakeshop’s decision protected under the First Amendment. This case cannot be thought of as Phillips versus Mullins and Craig, but as Masterpiece Cakeshop versus Colorado Civil Rights Commission. If the Supreme Court rules in favor of Masterpiece Cakeshop, it opens the door for all businesses to deny service based on their personal religious beliefs, and sets us back to a similar court case heard in 1968.
In 1964, two African-Americans parked at a Piggie Park drive-in and were refused service when the waitress realized their race. A civil rights lawsuit was pursued, and the owner justified the refusal based on her religious beliefs that opposed any integration of the races whatsoever. This was an easy decision for the U.S. District judges, and ultimately the Supreme Court judges at the time. It was never in question that the owner had the right to his own religious beliefs, but he does not have the right to practice those beliefs and disregard the constitutional rights of other citizens. When the case reached the Supreme Court, it was not to dispute the lower court’s ruling, but rather an issue of fees imposed on the lawyers representing the two African Americans. However, in the footnote of the final decision, the court called the owner’s religious freedom reasoning “patently frivolous,” and many supporters of Mullins and Craig are calling on the current Supreme Court to look back on this case as an example. There was no dispute in the late 1960’s that religious freedom is an argument for a business to refuse service, so it will be interesting to see if the Court holds true to this idea, or decide to overthrow it completely.
This is a huge case that is just getting underway and is one that we should all be watching closely, as it could cause a blurring of the lines between the rights of natural citizens and the rights of businesses. This could not only be a setback for the LGBTQ+ community, but for religious minorities as well, who may be refused services just due to them living their lives and holding true to their beliefs. It will still be some time before a decision is made, and it is hard to see where current justices stand, but nevertheless, we should not let this slide under our radars. This will have far-reaching repercussions, no matter the end result, and it is important that we all stand up for what we believe in and fight for true justice.