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Supreme Court Issues Surprise Ruling in Gay Wedding Cake Case

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The U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling Monday that many are reading as a defense of religious freedom. The court issued an opinion protecting the rights of a baker who refused to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex wedding. The ruling, though, is to be narrowly interpreted, and only applies to this one specific case.

The ruling, NBC points out, gives “no hint as to how the court might decide future cases involving florists, bakers, photographers and other business owners who have cited religious and free-speech objections when refusing to serve gay and lesbian customers in the wake of the Supreme Court’s 2015 same-sex marriage decision.”

The ruling came down 7-2. The majority opinion, written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, noted that “Colorado had shown a hostility to the baker’s religious views.” Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg both  dissented Monday. Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan voted with their more conservative colleagues.

“These disputes must be resolved with tolerance,” Kennedy wrote, “without undue disrespect to sincere religious beliefs, and without subjecting gay persons to indignities when they seek goods and services in an open market.”

Just how such resolutions are to be determined, however, seems less clear. What constitutes “undue disrespect,” or “indignities?”

The defendant in the case, Jack Phillips of Masterpiece Cake in Denver, sees this as a clear vindication. The ruling today serves to “declare to the world that my faith is not a scarlet letter.” He sees his business is an extension of his faith. He won’t make cakes that contain alcohol. He won’t make cakes for Halloween.

When David Mullins and Charlie Craig asked him to make a cake for them in 2012, Phillips declined. “I’m sorry, guys,” he remembers saying. “I can’t do that.”

Mullins said there was a “horrible pregnant pause while what was happening sunk in, and we were mortified.”

After a complaint was filed, Colorado determined that Phillips’ decision had violated a public accommodation law. Companies may not refuse services in a way that appears to be discriminatory. While Phillips’ maintained that his cake reflected him as a artist, the state determined that the cake expressed the intentions of the couple and not the baker.

“Government hostility toward people of faith has no place in our society, yet the state of Colorado was openly antagonistic toward Jack’s religious beliefs about marriage. The court was right to condemn that,” Kristen Waggoner, senior counsel with the Alliance Defending Freedom, said of the ruling.

Mullins and Craig still feel like they were discriminated against. “He simply turned us away just because of who we are instead of what we asked for,” Craig said.

“The Supreme Court today reaffirmed the core principle that businesses open to the public must be open to all. … The court did not accept arguments that would have turned back the clock on equality by making our basic civil rights protections unenforceable, but reversed this case based on concerns specific to the facts here,” the ACLU noted.