A case from Colorado centering on a bakery whose owner cited his conservative religious beliefs in refusing to make wedding cakes for same-sex couples was one of the most closely watched of the U.S. Supreme Court's recently concluded term.
For months, court watchers, legal analysts, journalists and others speculated over what might happen when Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission was handed down. Would the high court use the case as a vehicle to establish a broad right to discriminate on the basis of religion, or would it turn away the bakery entirely?
If observers were expecting fireworks, they were disappointed. The decision, released June 4, was exceedingly narrow and limited to the specific facts of the case. While technically a win for Jack Phillips, the owner of the bakery, the 7-2 ruling set no national precedent. If anything, the decision made it clear that discrimination claims based on religion will face tough sledding before the court.
In a nutshell, the court ruled that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission had violated Phillips' rights because it had acted with hostility toward religion when it decided the case. The commission, the court majority said, had exhibited bias against Phillips and failed to treat his religious views in a neutral manner, as is required by the Constitution.
But the court's opinion, written by Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, also made it clear that no sweeping precedent had been established.
"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 disrespect to sincere religious beliefs, and without subjecting gay persons to indignities when they seek goods and services in an open market," wrote Kennedy.
Kennedy also noted, "Our society has come to the recognition that gay persons and gay couples cannot be treated as social outcasts or as inferior in dignity and worth. For that reason the laws and the Constitution can, and in some instances must, protect them in the exercise of their civil rights."
Kennedy's language indicates empathy for couples like Charlie Craig and David Mullins, who brought the lawsuit after being turned away by Masterpiece Cakeshop in 2012. And it's a sign that, had the Colorado Civil Rights Commission not exhibited religious bias toward the bakery, the case might have turned out in the couple's favor.
Americans United said the mixed decision was disappointing but noted that it was narrow.
"While today's decision isn't what we had hoped for, the...