Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Colorado Baker

The decision comes as a surprise to some and a considered a victory by others.

On Monday, a split Supreme Court absolved a Colorado baker of discrimination for refusing to create a custom wedding cake for a same-sex couple. Their ruling stated that the state exhibited “religious hostility” against him.

The justices in favor, the vote was 7-2, criticized the state’s treatment of defendant Jack Phillips’ religious objections to gay marriage in 2012. They noted that this was several years before the historic 2015 ruling that declared same-sex marriage legal by the same court. The justices ruling stated that a state civil rights commission was hostile to Phillips even as it allowed other bakers to refuse to create cakes that demeaned gays and same-sex marriages. In doing this, the commission was thereby creating a double standard.

Since the ruling dealt only with the state’s treatment of Phillips it left no clear answer to the bigger question. Can opponents of same-sex marriage, including bakers, florists, photographers and videographers, can refuse commercial wedding services to gay couples?

Free speech or sanctioned hate?

In his ruling, Kennedy acknowledged that business owners generally cannot deny equal access to goods and services under a neutral public accommodations law. He agreed that doing so would create “a long list of persons who provide goods and services for marriages and weddings might refuse to do so for gay persons, thus resulting in a community-wide stigma inconsistent with the history and dynamics of civil rights laws.”

He also added that, “The outcome of cases like this in other circumstances must await further elaboration in the courts. These disputes must be resolved with tolerance, without undue disrespect to sincere religious beliefs, and without subjecting gay persons to indignities when they seek goods and services in an open market.”

Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor cast the lone dissents. Justice Ginsburg said this of the ruling.

“Phillips would not sell to Craig and Mullins, for no reason other than their sexual orientation, a cake of the kind he regularly sold to others.”

While Phillips and other conservative groups claimed victory, it should be emphasized that the court’s ruling does not permit Phillips to refuse future gay or lesbian customers seeking wedding cakes.

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