by Andrea Germanos
Cover Photo: Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper and Daniel Ramos, Executive Director for One Colorado.
“Today’s ruling by the Supreme Court does not change our country’s long-standing principle that businesses open to the public must be open to all. While we are disappointed the Court ruled in favor of Masterpiece Cakeshop and their discrimination against Dave Mullins and Charlie Craig, the fact remains that Colorado has a civil rights division and anti-discrimination laws that equally protect the fundamental rights of all Coloradans,” stated Daniel Ramos, Executive Director for One Colorado.
Prompting calls for increased vigilance and demands that businesses be “open to all,” the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday ruled in favor of a Colorado baker who had refused in 2012 to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple.
The ruling was 7-2, with Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor dissenting.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which argued the case on behalf of the couple, Dave Mullins and Charlie Craig, notes in a series of tweets that the court “did NOT rule that the Constitution gives a right to discriminate.”
Rather, the court found that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission had acted improperly when it said that the owner of the bakery in suburban Denver could not refuse to make a same-sex wedding cake because the body “showed elements of a clear and impermissible hostility toward the sincere religious beliefs motivating his objection,” and therefore did not act with “the requisite religious neutrality.”
“It’s against Colorado law to deny goods and services to any individual because of sexual orientation. Nothing in the narrow opinion released today by the United States Supreme Court changes that, or prevents the state from protecting LGBTQ persons from discrimination.”
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper
In his majority opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote that “the outcome of cases like this in other circumstances must await further elaboration in the courts, all in the context of recognizing that 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.”
In other words, said Louise Melling, deputy legal director of the ACLU, the high court overturned the Colorado Court of Appeals’ 2015 ruling “based on concerns unique to the case but reaffirmed its longstanding rule that states can prevent the harms of discrimination in the marketplace, including against LGBT people.”
Ramos added, “We strongly believe that the freedom of religion must be defended as one of our most fundamental values as Americans, but that freedom cannot be used to harm others or discriminate against others. Coloradans across our state – including LGBTQ Coloradans and their families – can take heart from today’s decision that no matter who you are, who you love, or what you believe, you will still be protected in our state from discrimination in the areas of employment, housing, and public accommodations.”
In an ACLU press release, Mullins and Craig stated: “Today’s decision means our fight against discrimination and unfair treatment will continue. We have always believed that in América, you should not be turned away from a business open to the public because of who you are. We brought this case because no one should have to face the shame, embarrassment, and humiliation of being told ‘we don’t serve your kind here’ that we faced, and we will continue fighting until no one does.”
New México Congresswoman Michelle Lujan Grisham weighed in on the decision.
“Today’s decision reminds us not only how far we have come to protect longstanding civil rights laws, but also how far we have to go to ensure that Charlie Craig, David Mullins and all LGBTQ people are free from discrimination because of who they are or whom they love.
“That is why Congress must act without delay to pass the bipartisan Equality Act to provide clear and consistent non-discrimination protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity,” urged Rep. Lujan Grisham.
Lambda Legal, however, warned that the ruling could invite “discrimination and further efforts to justify withholding service from #LGBTQ people.”
The advocacy group’s CEO, Rachel B. Tiven, called it “a deeply disappointing day in American jurisprudence.”
“Today’s decision should have been a firm, direct affirmance of longstanding equality law. Instead, the Supreme Court has become an accomplice in the right’s strategy to hollow out one of its finest achievements, the right to equal marriage, and create what Justice Ginsberg memorably termed ‘skim milk marriages,'” she added.
Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper responded to the Supreme Court’s decision. “It’s against Colorado law to deny goods and services to any individual because of sexual orientation. Nothing in the narrow opinion released today by the United States Supreme Court changes that, or prevents the state from protecting LGBTQ persons from discrimination,” he explained.
“While we are disappointed with the decision, we take seriously the Court’s admonition that the state must apply its laws and regulations in a manner that is neutral toward religion. We have no doubt that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission will meet that standard as they listen, respectfully, to all sides of the matters that come before it and issue decisions that uphold the protections afforded under Colorado law,” affirmed Governor Hickenlooper.
Colorado State Representative Leslie Herod (HD-8, Denver), the first African American LGBTQ person elected to public office in Colorado. Last year, she joined other LGBTQ leaders in Colorado to submit an amicus brief for the Masterpiece Cakeshop case and was the prime sponsor of the bill to reauthorization the Civil Rights Division and Commission.
“I am very disappointed by the court’s decision. While I realize the court was balancing religious liberty with the rights of gay people to be free from discrimination in the public sphere, the court got this one wrong,” stated Rep. Herod. “However, this isn’t a victory for those attempting to undermine the civil rights of the gay community.”
“The Colorado General Assembly was right to enact discrimination laws in public accommodations. This decision upholds those laws. I stand with my fellow Democrats in our promise to protect the LGBTQ community from discrimination.”
The case was Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission.
Andrea Germanos is a Staff Writer at Common Dreams. The Weekly Issue/El Semanario news team included additional content to this article.