by The Editorial Board, USA Today
Ruling does not open the door to gay-marriage discrimination by all sorts of vendors who claim a First Amendment right: Our view
Baker Jack Phillips at the Supreme Court in December 2017.
(Photo: Brendan Smialowski, AFP/Getty Images)
The Supreme Court handed a victory on Monday to a Colorado baker who refused to create a wedding cake for a same-sex couple. But the justices left open the huge constitutional question of whether businesses across the country can refuse to serve gay couples by citing religious or free-speech objections.
While Monday’s 7-2 ruling was also a win for conservatives and religious groups that oppose same-sex marriage, it was a narrow one and not the slam-dunk some had hoped for. Nor was it the major defeat that supporters of gay marriage had feared, one that might have opened the way for broad discrimination against same-sex couples.
OPPOSING VIEW: Cake decision ‘a big win for all Americans’
JACK PHILLIPS: Ruling respects my faith
A broader ruling would have been a renunciation of a right long enshrined in America’s values: that all individuals have a right to be free from discrimination in their public lives. Americans should be glad that the court’s majority stopped short of such a backward slide.
Though the Supreme Court in 2015 recognized a constitutional right for same-sex couples to marry, many battles remain to be fought. And this one is now left for another day.
The dispute started in 2012, before gay marriage was recognized in Colorado. Baker Jack Phillips refused to create a custom cake for the wedding of Charlie Craig and David Mullins. The couple took the case to the Colorado Civil Rights Commission. Colorado is one of more than 20 states that bar discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
The commission ruled against Phillips, and a Colorado appeals court agreed. The justices threw out the commission’s ruling, asserting that some members had shown “impermissible hostility” toward Phillips’ sincerely held religious beliefs. One member went so far as comparing them to religious beliefs used to defend slavery and the Holocaust.
Justice Anthony Kennedy’s majority opinion made clear to lower courts that similar “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.”
The decision satisfied all but liberal Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor.
A broad ruling in favor of Phillips could have opened the door to discrimination by all sorts of vendors who claim a First Amendment right to artistic expression, as Phillips did: photographers, chefs, suit and dress designers, florists and wedding planners, to name a few.
First Amendment rights to practice religion and free speech are fundamental protections, but they are not unlimited. Philips has an absolute right to his religious beliefs against gay marriage, but when the practice of those beliefs infringes on the rights of others to equal treatment, it goes too far.
In this country, when you open a business and sell to the public, you agree to abide by public accommodation laws.
Kennedy’s majority opinion hinted that the court recognizes this broad principle and in another case might rule differently: In general, religious and philosophical objections “do not allow business owners and other actors … to deny protected persons equal access to goods and services,” he wrote.
Congress could set the tone by approving broad protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation.
When Craig and Mullins or any other gay couple is turned away by a vendor, the unequal and humiliating treatment defies basic American values. It would be best for the Supreme Court to make that clear sooner rather than later.
USA Today · by The Editorial Board, USA Today