The United States Supreme Court ruled in favor of Colorado Christian baker Jack Phillips on Monday in overwhelming fashion, saying that the state government's hostility towards his refusal to make a same-sex wedding cake violated the U.S. Constitution.
In a 7-2 vote, the nation's high court ruled that the state of Colorado violated the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment when it penalized Phillips and his Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood for violating a state discrimination law by refusing to bake a custom cake to celebrate the wedding of Dave Mullins and Charlie Craig.
"The laws and the Constitution can, and in some instances must, protect gay persons and gay couples in the exercise of their civil rights, but religious and philosophical objections to gay marriage are protected views and in some instances protected forms of expression," a summary of court's majority opinion states.
"While it is unexceptional that Colorado law can protect gay persons in acquiring products and services on the same terms and conditions as are offered to other members of the public, the law must be applied in a manner that is neutral toward religion."
The court reasoned that Phillips use of his artistic abilities to make a wedding cake carries a "significant First Amendment speech component and implicates his deep and sincere religious beliefs."
"His dilemma was understandable in 2012, which was before Colorado recognized the validity of gay marriages performed in the State and before this Court issued United States v. Windsor," the ruling explained. "Given the State's position at the time, there is some force to Phillips' argument that he was not unreasonable in deeming his decision lawful."
The court points out that Colorado law at the time gave the storekeepers "some latitude to decline to create specific messages they considered offensive."
"Indeed, while the instant enforcement proceedings were pending, the State Civil Rights Division concluded in at least three cases that a baker acted lawfully in declining to create cakes with decorations that demeaned gay persons or gay marriages," the court stated. "Phillips too was entitled to a neutral and respectful consideration of his claims in all the circumstances of the case."
The court criticized the Colorado Civil Rights Commission's clear bias against Phillips' Christian beliefs, which first ruled that Phillips violated that state discrimination law after the couple filed a complaint. The opinion states that the commission showed a "clear and impermissible hostility toward the sincere religious beliefs motivating his objection."