Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission

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Status: Open
Supreme Court of the United States
Issues: Anti-LGBT Rulings, Laws and Amendments, Marriage, Relationships and Family Protections

Friend-of-the-court brief to the U.S. Supreme Court presenting dozens of examples showing the pervasive and harmful nature of anti-LGBT discrimination with and without religious motivations. Lambda Legal’s brief urges affirmance of the decision of the Colorado Court of Appeals, which rejected the use of religion to excuse violation of Colorado’s civil rights law.

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Charlie Craig and David Mullins, a same-sex couple, were planning a celebration of their Massachusetts wedding with Colorado friends and family.  They requested a cake for their celebration from Jack Phillips and his bakery, Masterpiece Cakeshop.  Phillips specializes in baking and decorating wedding cakes but refused to serve Charlie and David the same way he serves others based on his religious objection to same-sex couples marrying. Phillips also claims that decorating wedding cakes involves artistic expression that should exempt bakers from nondiscrimination laws.

After Phillips refused to even discuss the sort of cake they might wish to buy, Charlie and David filed a discrimination complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission.  Thereafter, the ACLU of Colorado represented them in court, arguing that sexual orientation discrimination by a business and its proprietor violates the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act regardless of its motivation or use of creative designs.

We filed an amicus brief in the Colorado Court of Appeals supporting Craig and David by discussing past precedents in which courts rejected similar demands for religious exemptions from laws barring discrimination based on race, sex or marital status.  Our brief also surveyed the history and continuing problem of antigay discrimination in Colorado, reinforcing why the state has a compelling interest in enforcing this law, even if some people object on religious or free speech grounds. We emphasized that Mr. Phillips’ policy of telling same-sex couples essentially that “we don’t serve your kind here” is discrimination of an all-too-familiar kind.  It violates Colorado law regardless of Phillips’ religious or other personal motivations. The amicus brief was written by Lambda Legal Senior Counsel Jennifer Pizer with Denver-based cooperating attorneys John McHugh and Anthony Giacomini of Reilly Posner LLP.  One Colorado and the One Colorado Educational Fund joined Lambda Legal as amici curiae on the brief.

In August 2015, the Colorado Court of Appeals ruled unanimously in favor of Craig and David, rejecting both the religious exemption argument and the free speech defense. The antigay religious-legal organization representing Phillips asked the Colorado Supreme Court to review that decision.  The request was denied.  Thereafter, they asked the U.S. Supreme Court to grant review.  After an extraordinarily long period, the Court agreed to review the Colorado court’s decision. 

Lambda Legal’s amicus brief to the Supreme Court was written by Jennifer Pizer, Law and Policy Senior Attorney Nancy Marcus, and Shelbi Day of the Family Equality Council.  In addition to the Family Equality Council, American Federation of Teachers/AFL-CIO, Equality California, Equality Federation, The LGBT Bar Association of Greater New York, Mazzoni Center, National Center for Transgender Equality, National Education Association, PFLAG National, PROMO, The Trevor Project, and Whitman-Walker Health all joined Lambda Legal as amici curiae on the brief.

The Supreme Court held oral argument on December 5, 2017.  A decision is expected by the end of June.