End of the legal road? Colorado baker who refused service to same-sex wedding loses again

by Gregory Tomlin, |
REUTERS/Mick Tsikas

DENVER (Christian Examiner) – A Lakewood, Colo., baker who refused to bake a cake for a gay wedding because same-sex marriage violated his religious beliefs will not have his case heard before the Colorado Supreme Court.

Jack Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, was found guilty by the Colorado Civil Rights Commission of having discriminated against Charlie Craig and David Mullins in 2012 when the two planned to wed in Massachusetts, but then hold a post-wedding celebration in Colorado. They asked Phillips' shop to bake a cake, but he refused.

That refusal led to a court case in which Colorado Judge Robert Spencer ordered the baker in 2013 to "cease and desist" discrimination against same-sex couples, an act he said was illegal under state law.

Spencer also said the act of baking the cake for the men did not prohibit Phillips from exercising his religion.

That wasn't enough for the state, however. The Colorado Civil Rights Commission soon piled on, requiring the baker to submit quarterly reports (for two years) which detailed the name of any person he refused to bake a cake for and on what grounds the refusal was made. The reports were also supposed to document steps Phillips had made to end what the Commission deemed a discriminatory practice.

Phillips then took his case before the Colorado Court of Appeals. The appellate court found that the ruling by the lower court and the Commission were appropriate. That court said in its ruling Phillips could not cite his religious beliefs as an excuse to not provide services to the male couple because "neutral laws of general applicability do not offend the Free Exercise Clause."

Phillips, however, argued that the commission's ruling was not neutral, but biased in favor of the same-sex couple and against religious belief. Therefore, he appealed again – this time to the state's highest court.

The high court's refusal to hear the case on Colorado law may not be the end of the legal road for Phillips. He could appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court to have it hear the case, but the court has already refused to hear a similar New Mexico case.

In that case, the New Mexico Civil Rights Commission found photographer Elaine Hugeunin and her husband Jonathan guilty of discrimination for refusing to photograph a same-sex commitment ceremony. The state's high court upheld the finding, even though the U.S. Supreme Court had not yet created the right of same-sex marriage.

Importantly, the Hugeunins did not refuse to take portraits of same-sex couples. They only refused to photograph a ceremony solemnizing a same-sex commitment ceremony (like a wedding), a practice they said violated their religious beliefs.

Jeremy Tedesco, senior counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, which has represented Phillips in the Colorado case, said after the Colorado Supreme Court issued its ruling yesterday that Phillips has a right to follow his beliefs whether at home, at church or at work. No one, he said, should be asked to violate their beliefs "as the price of earning a living."

The American Civil Liberties Union, however, was happy with the ruling. It issued a statement following the court's announcement and said it believed the court's decision would serve as a "lesson for others" who dare oppose gay rights.

"The highest court in Colorado today affirmed that no one should be turned away from a public-facing business because of who they are or who they love," Ria Tabacco Mar, a staff attorney for the ACLU's LGBT Project, said. Mar argued the case on behalf of the ACLU.

"We all have a right to our personal beliefs, but we do not have a right to impose those beliefs on others and harm them. We hope today's win will serve as a lesson for others that equality and fairness should be our guiding principles and that discrimination has no place at the table, or the bakery as the case may be," Mar said.

Ironically, Colorado bakers who are gay are allowed to refuse service to Christians. In April 2015, the Civil Rights Division of the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies ruled Azucar Bakery in Denver did not violate the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act when owner Marjorie Silva refused to bake a cake decorated with Bible verses about sin and homosexuality.

Conservatives claimed the decision set a double standard because the same regulatory body ruled against Phillips.

In 2013, William Jack, founder of the Christian ministry Worldview Academy, requested the local confectionary bake two cakes with an open Bible on each — decorating the facing pages on one cake with "God hates sin - Psalm 45:7" and "Homosexuality is a detestable sin - Lev. 18:22" and doing similarly on the other with "God loves sinners" and "While we were yet sinners Christ died for us - Rom. 5:8."

Jack also requested a depiction of two men holding hands with a red "prohibited" symbol (circle and slash) over the couple.