The Supreme Court ruled today in favor of Jack Phillips, the Christian baker in Colorado who refused to bake a custom wedding cake for a same-sex couple. The Court found that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission infringed on Phillips’s rights in ruling that he violated the Colorado anti-discrimination law barring merchants from refusing service based on race, sex, marital status, or sexual orientation. The ruling is narrow; it does not empower merchants to deny service based on sexual orientation. It is based entirely on the Colorado Civil Rights Commission’s hostility toward Phillips’s religious views in ruling against him.
1. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor were the only dissenting votes, meaning that the decision was 7-2, and not a “conservative vs liberal” outcome. Even the dissent is based on narrow legal and factual distinctions rather than ideological ones.
3. These statements from Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion, cited by Justice Ginsberg, help clarify matters in the right legal and ethical direction:
- “[I]t is a general rule that [religious and philosophical] objections do not allow business owners and other actors in the economy and in society to deny protected persons equal access to goods and services under a neutral and generally applicable public accommodations law.”
- “Colorado law can protect gay persons, just as it can protect other classes of individuals, in acquiring whatever products and services they choose on the same terms and conditions as are offered to other members of the public.”
- “[P]urveyors of goods and services who object to gay marriages for moral and religious reasons [may not] put up signs saying ‘no goods or services will be sold if they will be used for gay marriages.’ ”
The ruling could have hardly been less of a ringing endorsement of either “side.”
4. To which I say, “Good.” As I wrote the last time this case was discussed here,
Either side’s victory creates a slippery slope, but the real harm of discrimination and reducing classes of citizens into those with lesser or greater rights is far worse than the symbolic harm of having to sell a gay couple a wedding cake that nobody would regard as the baker’s endorsement of the marriage, including God, since God is presumably not an idiot.
This, however, is the kind of case that spawned the old saying “Hard cases make bad law.” This one will, no matter how it comes out.
That’s why it should have been resolved ethically, with compromise, responsible conduct, kindness, and respect.
5. I don’t have a lot to add to that today, in light of the decision. This case should never have ended up in court. All parties behaved badly. Stuck with the case, I think the Court did as good a job of handling it without causing more confusion as it could have. If the law it makes is bad, it’s not as bad as I expected.
6. The spin conservatives are putting on the ruling is misleading. For example, the National Review’s headline is “SCOTUS Rules in Favor of Baker who Refused to Make LGBT-Wedding Cake.” That is technically accurate, but you would have to read the whole article to learn “The ruling does not broadly empower merchants to deny service based on sexual orientation but rather narrowly addresses the question of whether the Colorado Civil Rights Commission demonstrated hostility toward Phillips’s religious views in ruling against him.” In fact, if the Commission had not been so obviously anti-religion and had not so blatantly signaled its contempt, its ruling against Phillips might have stood.
7. The real lesson of the opinion is “Bias makes you stupid.”