Supreme Court: Colorado Violated Baker's First Amendment Rights in Same-Sex Discrimination Case
The Supreme Court today ruled that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission violated Jack Phillips' First Amendment rights to the free exercise of religion in the way it dismissed his religious reasoning for denying service to a same-sex couple who requested a cake for their wedding.
While the Court was careful not to rule that wedding vendors and other business owners have a right to refuse service to same-sex couples, it did say the state agency reviewing the case "showed elements of a clear and impermissible hostility toward the sincere religious beliefs motivating [Phillips'] objection." Therefore, the finding that Phillips violated Colorado's anti-discrimination laws was invalidated.
You can read the Supreme Court's full opinion, and its reasoning, below.
Equal Protection for People and Beliefs
While the Supreme Court conceded that Colorado law could protect gay peoples' right to equal treatment and access to products and services, it determined that law "must applied in a manner that is neutral toward religion." Writing for the 7-2 majority, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy found that didn't happen in this case:
As the record shows, some of the commissioners at the Commission's formal, public hearings endorsed the view that religious beliefs cannot legitimately be carried into the public sphere or commercial domain, disparaged Phillips' faith as despicable and characterized it as merely rhetorical, and compared his invocation of his sincerely held religious beliefs to defenses of slavery and the Holocaust.
The Court, sympathetic to Phillips' religious opposition to same-sex marriage, declared those comments compromised the "neutral and respectful consideration to which Phillips was entitled," and therefore "cast doubt on the fairness and impartiality" of his hearing.
Past, Present, and Future Rulings?
While the Court overturned the Commission's determination that Phillip's violated state anti-discrimination laws in this case, it was careful to avoid any determination about whether religious objections could allow businesses to deny service to gay people in the future:
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.
Here is the Court's decision, in full:
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