Court Rules Baker Can't Cite Religion to Deny Cakes for Gay Couples

Jack Phillips
Masterpiece Cakeshop owner Jack Phillips decorates a cake inside his store, in Lakewood, Colorado, in 2014.Brennan Linsley / AP file

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By Phil Helsel

A Denver-area baker can’t refuse to make wedding cakes for same-sex couples because of his Christian faith, the Colorado Court of Appeals ruled Thursday.

The three-judge panel upheld an administrative law judge decision from two years ago that found the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood violated a state anti-discrimination act when he refused to make a wedding cake for two men in 2012.

The court said the shop owner, Jack C. Phillips, is free to disagree with same-sex marriage but the act prevents him from "picking and choosing customers based on their sexual orientation."

The American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado, which helped bring the suit, hailed the decision. "In America, no one should be turned away from a shop or restaurant because of who they are or who they love," ACLU staff attorney Ria Marr said in a statement.

Phillips refused to make a wedding cake for Charlie Craig and David Mullins, who planned to wed in Massachusetts and celebrate in Colorado, in 2012.

Colorado did not recognize same-sex marriage at the time. In June, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down bans on same-sex marriage nationwide.

Phillips’ attorneys argued that being forced to make a wedding cake would violate his right of free speech and expression of religion, and that Phillips was only opposed to same-sex marriage and not the couple’s sexual orientation, and that he serves gay customers.

"We conclude that the act of same-sex marriage is closely correlated to Craig’s and Mullins’ sexual orientation," the appeals court said in its decision.

The court said that Phillips is free to voice his opposition to same-sex marriage but the law "merely prohibits Masterpiece from discriminating against potential customers on account of their sexual orientation."

Phillips stopped making wedding cakes altogether after being ordered to make cakes for same-sex couples, one of this attorneys, Jeremy Tedesco, senior legal counsel for the Arizona-based Alliance Defending Freedom, said. That decision took away 40 percent of his business, Tedesco said.

"He is being forced to choose between his religion and his livelihood," Tedesco said. "Where do we live? Do we live in America?"

Tedesco compared Phillips’ case to a baker or print shop owner who refused to create something featuring the Confederate battle flag.

"You have every right to say, 'I’m not going to create a cake for you with the Confederate flag on it — that same principle applies here," he said. In its opinion, the court said the couple were denied before any discussion of the cake's design.

Tedesco said they will likely appeal Thursday’s decision to the state Supreme Court.

Masterpiece Cakeshop owner Jack Phillips decorates a cake inside his store, in Lakewood, Colorado, in 2014.Brennan Linsley / AP file