Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission

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

Lambda Legal and Family Equality Council submitted a friend-of-the-court brief to the U.S. Supreme Court, joined by 11 other organizations, which documents the pervasive and harmful nature of anti-LGBT discrimination with and without religious motivations.  Lambda Legal urges the Court to affirm the Colorado Court of Appeals decision and reject the use of religion to excuse violation of Colorado’s civil rights law.

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Charlie Craig and David Mullins requested a cake for the celebration of their wedding 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.

Lambda Legal filed a friend-of-the-court 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. The brief also surveyed the history and continuing problem of antigay discrimination in Colorado. 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.

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.  The Supreme Court delayed a decision on whether to take the case until after Neil Gorsuch was confirmed, after which it agreed to take it. 

The Supreme Court held oral argument on December 5, 2017.  A decision was released on June 4, 2018, siding with the baker.