A baker in suburban Denver must make cakes for same-sex weddings or face fines, according to a judge’s ruling last week.
Judge Robert N. Spencer denied the bakery owner’s claim that he was exercising his freedoms of religion and speech when he told a gay couple he would not make their wedding cake. Spencer instead ordered him to “cease and desist from discriminating” or face fines ranging from $50 to $500 per person per incident, according to the bakery owner’s attorney.
This decision sends a boding message to other small businesses, especially those in the wedding industry such as florists, bakers, photographers, and event venues, putting them in a troubling standoff between freedom of religion and anti-discrimination laws.
The baker, Jack Phillips, told WORLD he has support from loyal customers and many in the community. When asked how business has been days after the ruling, his voice—hoarse from answering questions—had an energetic ring. “Business is crazy,” he said.
Phillips entered the spotlight in July 2012 when Charlie Craig, 33, and David Mullins, 29, went to Masterpiece Cakeshop to purchase a wedding cake. As soon as they told Phillips they wanted a cake for “our wedding,” Phillips told the couple that he did not make cakes for same-sex weddings. “I’ll make you birthday cakes, shower cakes, sell you cookies and brownies; I just don’t make cakes for same-sex weddings,” Phillips said.
When Craig’s mother called the bakery the next day, Phillips told her that he doesn’t make cakes for same-sex weddings because of his Christian beliefs and because Colorado does not recognize same-sex marriage.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed discrimination charges on behalf of the couple with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission. They claim Phillips’ refusal to make a cake was prohibited by Colorado’s anti-discrimination law, also called a public accommodations statute. In 2008, the statute was amended to include “sexual orientation.”
Phillips’ attorneys claim he was not discriminating against Craig and Mullins as homosexuals, but was instead refusing to support the institution of same-sex marriage.
“We were hopeful that the judge would realize that family business owners are constitutionally guaranteed the freedom to live and work according to their beliefs,” said Nicolle Martin, attorney for the baker. “We were surprised that the free speech argument has to bow to the public accommodation statute.”
The judge’s opinion stated: “At first blush, it may seem reasonable that a private business should be able to refuse service to anyone it chooses. This view, however, fails to take into account the cost to society and the hurt caused to persons who are denied service simply because of who they are.”
Martin said she believes that the Civil Rights Commission will rubber stamp Spencer’s decision and it will become a final order around Jan. 6. Phillips and his attorneys are still deciding if they will appeal the decision.