A state appeals court in Colorado ruled on Thursday that a Christian baker outside of Denver can be fined for refusing to design a cake for a same-sex wedding.
The Colorado Court of Appeals rejected the argument by lawyers for the cake shop owner who argued that forcing him to create and sell a cake to a gay couple planning a wedding celebration violated his First Amendment rights.
Coming in the wake of the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling for gay marriage, the decision is the latest to limit the rights of religious business owners involved in wedding services to turn away same-sex couples.
The dispute started in 2012 when Charlie Craig and David Mullins visited Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood and requested a cake to celebrate their planned wedding. The couple had plans to marry in Massachusetts but wanted to celebrate with their friends in Colorado, which at the time did not permit same-sex marriages, according to the opinion.
Masterpiece owner Jack Phillips declined the couple’s request, telling them he doesn’t create wedding cakes for same-sex weddings because of his religious beliefs, according to the opinion, which said he advised the two men that he would be happy to sell them other baked goods.
“Phillips believes that decorating cakes is a form of art, that he can honor God through his artistic talents, and that he would displease God by creating cakes for same-sex marriages,” the opinion said.
The couple then filed a complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, alleging discrimination based on sexual orientation under the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act. After a commission judge ruled for the couple — a decision affirmed by the commission itself — Mr. Phillips took his case to the appellate court.
The court rejected the baker’s argument that his refusal to create the cake was because of his opposition to same-sex marriage, not because of his opposition to the customers’ sexual orientation.
Judge Daniel M. Taubman, author of the opinion, said “such distinctions are generally inappropriate,” citing this year’s U.S. Supreme Court opinion that declared gay marriage to be a constitutional right nationwide.
“We conclude that the act of same-sex marriage is closely correlated to Craig’s and Mullins’ sexual orientation, and therefore, the [administrative law judge] did not err when he found that Masterpiece’s refusal to create a wedding cake for Craig and Mullins was ‘because of’ their sexual orientation, in violation of CADA,” wrote Judge Taubman, who said Mr. Phillips is free to post a disclaimer online or in his store indicating that his services don’t constitute an endorsement of gay marriage.
“This is an important decision for civil rights in Colorado and for the country,” Denver attorney Paula Greisen, who represented the couple, told Law Blog.
An attorney with Alliance Defending Freedom, which represented Masterpiece, said they’re considering their legal options. “The court is wrong to deny Jack his fundamental freedoms,” said ADF senior legal counsel Jeremy Tedesco in a statement.
Gay couples have won similar cases in other states. In 2013, the highest court in New Mexico ruled that the owners of an Albuquerque wedding photography company may not deny services to same-sex couples.
Earlier this summer, the Oregon labor commissioner ordered the owners of “Sweetcakes by Melissa” bakery to pay a lesbian couple $135,000 in damages “for emotional and mental suffering resulting from” its refusal to bake them a wedding cake.
Ms. Griesen in Denver said another baker in the area who heard about the case donated a cake to Messrs. Craig and Mullins.