The Supreme Court offered a ruling on Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission on Monday, handing down a judgment that, while not directly undermining gay rights as a whole, is certainly not a victory for the cause. The case stems from a 2012 incident in which fiancés Charlie Craig and David Mullins approached Jack Phillips at Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, Colo. The couple was going to get married in Massachusetts and then return to Colorado for a celebration, and they sought to commission a cake from Phillips. Phillips denied their request on the grounds that same-sex marriage, which was illegal in Colorado at the time, was also against his religious beliefs. The couple filed a case against Phillips under Colorado’s anti-discrimination public accommodations law. The Colorado Civil Rights Commission ruled in their favor, but SCOTUS has officially reversed that ruling in a 7-2 decision, deeming it a violation of the First Amendment.
Writing for the case, Justice Anthony Kennedy said that, though anti-discrimination laws should be upheld, they “must be applied in a manner that is neutral toward religion.” The court ruled that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission “fail[ed] to act in a manner neutral to religion.” Justice Kennedy was particularly alarmed by comments during proceedings wherein a commissioner stated that religion had been used as a “despicable” defense of human rights violations like slavery and the Holocaust. “This sentiment is inappropriate for a Commission charged with the solemn responsibility of fair and neutral enforcement of Colorado’s antidiscrimination law,” Kennedy wrote, “a law that protects discrimination on the basis of religion as well as sexual orientation.”
Kennedy tried to clearly state that this case would not set a precedent for discrimination against gay people, but rather advocate for tolerance of religion in this specific instance. “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 respect to sincere religious beliefs, and without subjecting gay persons to indignities when they seek goods and services in an open market.”
This ruling reverses the Colorado Civil Rights Commission’s findings, which had instructed Phillips to change his company policies and provide pro-tolerance staff training. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Sonia Sotomayor were the Supreme Court’s sole dissenters.