“This Homophobic Bakery will Cater Dog Weddings but Not Gay Civil Unions.” That’s the cute headline on The Atlantic Wire, the influential website of one of America’s most venerable, liberal magazines, The Atlantic. Cute, but superficial.
Basic news: A bakery in Colorado is facing a discrimination complaint after refusing to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding. According to the case, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on behalf of David Mullins and Charlie Craig, the owners of the bakery have a history of turning away same-sex couples.
The Colorado Attorney General’s office filed a formal complaint last week after the ACLU initiated the process last year. The case is scheduled for a hearing in September before Colorado’s Civil Rights Commission.
The complaint seeks to force Masterpiece Cakeshop to “cease and desist” the practice of refusing to make wedding cakes for same-sex couples while telling the public that their business is open to everyone. If owner Jack Phillips loses the case and refuses to comply with the order, he could face fines of $500 per case and up to a year in jail, his attorney said.
The case highlights the ongoing tension between religious liberty and the push for more rights for civil unions. According to the filed complaint, Phillips said making a wedding cake for gay couples violates his Christian religious beliefs.
The ACLU website asserts, “While bakery owners are free to practice their faith and to personally oppose same-sex marriage, they cannot use those beliefs as an excuse to disrespect and discriminate against customers.” Phillips’ attorney, Nicolle Martin, said “At its heart this case is about conscience.” She added that the matter is important because of the precedent it would set in forcing Phillips “to choose between his conscience and a paycheck. I just think that’s an intolerable choice.”
Martin is right: This is a serious issue, and not one to relegate to slogans and clever headlines. The Atlantic Wire ran its story after Phillips said no to a gay wedding cake but apparently yes to a request for a dog wedding cake. But doggie weddings have no moral implications. Some Christians see baking the cake for a same-sex wedding as condoning the ceremony, and against their conscience.
Phillips told CBS News when the ACLU first initiated the case in 2012 he had received more than 1,000 angry messages for his stance on same-sex marriage. He said he would provide other kinds of cakes for homosexuals, just not wedding cakes: “We would close down that bakery before we closed our beliefs, so that may be what it comes to … we’ll see.”
Not all Christians have come to the same conclusion. Some see serving people who disagree with them as a form of evangelism. Others wonder whether bakers who won’t make wedding cakes for homosexuals would also refuse heterosexuals getting married for the fifth time. This is one more example of a freedom of conscience issue now dragged into the public square in a messy way.