Masterpiece Cakeshop: Civil Rights Commission finds bakery discriminated against gay couple

Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood discriminated against a same-sex couple when it refused to bake them a wedding cake in 2012, according to an order issued today by the Colorado Civil Rights Commission. The commission upheld an administrative law judge's prior determination that the bakery and its owner, Jack Phillips, violated Colorado's anti-discrimination laws. The seven commissioners also reiterated the judge's order that Masterpiece cease such discrimination -- a point that may be moot because Phillips says he hasn't been baking wedding cakes for anybody since early this year.

Instead, Phillips says he's been busy filling orders from supporters for other baked goods. "It's a very small shop and you can only do so much," Phillips said after the hearing.

Phillips added that he disagrees with the commission's findings and said that requiring him to bake wedding cakes for same-sex couples violates his rights to free speech. If a gay couple wanted a birthday cake, Phillips said he'd have no problem baking one. "My issue is, I don't want to be forced to participate in a same-sex wedding," he said.

His attorney, Nicole Martin, said Colorado has clearly defined marriage as between a man and a woman -- and the commission has no right to overrule that. "Is it really America anymore if a human rights tribunal can trump the First Amendment?" she said.

The seven commissioners did not listen to arguments from either side before making their decision. Instead, they deliberated on the issue based on written pleadings.

Commissioner Susie Velasquez said that because Masterpiece Cakeshop is a "public accommodation" under the law, it is barred from discriminating against same-sex couples. "It should be open to everyone," she said.

"If a cake shop said, 'No, I don't bake cakes for Hispanics,' that would be the same," added commissioner Diann Rice, speaking in agreement with Velasquez.

"It's not an issue of free speech," said commissioner Raju Jairam. "I can believe anything I want to believe, but if I'm going to do business here, I better follow the law."

In addition to ordering Masterpiece to stop discriminating against gay couples seeking wedding cakes, the commission ordered Phillips to submit quarterly reports for the next two years detailing the steps the shop has taken to do so. The reports are to include updates on any changes in store policy, training for employees and a tally of how many customers have been turned away and for what reason.

The same-sex couple who tried to order a wedding cake from Masterpiece in 2012 also attended the hearing. Charlie Craig and Dave Mullins said they're thrilled with the commission's decision. "Everything they said in there validated how we feel," Craig said.

Phillips can choose to appeal the commission's decision to the Colorado Court of Appeals. Martin, his attorney, said they're contemplating whether to do so.

More from our Follow That Story archive: "Masterpiece Cakeshop: Will shop make cake for dog wedding but not gay wedding?"

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Melanie Asmar is a staff writer for Westword. She joined the paper in 2009 and has won awards for her stories about education, immigration and epic legal battles. Got a tip? She'd love to hear it.
Contact: Melanie Asmar