Lonnie Hanzon was putting the final touches on his annual art installation for this year's PrideFest in Civic Center Park — the icing on the cake, if you will — when he learned of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case on June 4.
Back in 2015, just as another Supreme Court decision loomed, the Denver artist had created a twenty-foot-tall "Equality Cake," a monumental public sculpture designed to both celebrate the fortieth anniversary of PrideFest and bring attention to the romantic and legal aspects of marriage equality. "I was struck by the starkness of the 1,138 rights, responsibilities and privileges of marriage — documented by the United States Accounting Office in two separate reports — juxtaposed with trivial arguments about cakes," Hanzon, who'd married his partner illegally back in 1982, said at the time. "People picking fights over cake instead of discussing the real issues. I was saddened and angered by the Colorado 'cake' stories. Once again, Colorado getting a national story for the wrong reasons."
He was referring not just to the Masterpiece Cakeshop case, which got its start in 2012 when Lakewood baker Jack Phillips refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple because of his Christian views, but Colorado's passage of Amendment 2 in 1992, an act that prohibited "special rights" for homosexuals and also led to Colorado being labeled the "Hate State." The Supreme Court ruled that amendment was unconstitutional in 1996.
And five days after the 2015 PrideFest ended, the Supreme Court issued another sweet decision: that the Fourteenth Amendment requires all states to grant same-sex marriages and recognize same-sex marriages granted in other states.
That battle won, the next year Hanzon devoted his PrideFest piece to remembering the victims of the Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando. And last year, he created a shrine to humanity, "to make a precursory statement about freedom of religion."
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This year, with the Supreme Court's Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission decision in the works, Hanson considered doing a second "Equality Cake." But the theme of the 43rd annual PrideFest is "Say It Loud, Say It Proud," so instead, he explains, "I'm doing a thing about doors. It's a project made of fifteen doors and walls — it's talking about public accommodations, basically. All the doors have very welcoming signage on them that is meant to imply an inclusive society." As viewers choose a door, they will step across a threshold and join the fight for equality.
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And while the Supreme Court's very narrow decision did support Phillips, it didn't slam the door on Hanzon's current design. "It would have been really nice to get a big win," he admits. "It came in, and my first reaction was to go into that angry place." But then he thought again, and he decided to keep the imagery celebratory, since he sees this decision actually opening some doors.
"While it opens the door for those who want to abuse the Constitution, it also opens up the floodgates for the backlog," he says, citing an upcoming case involving a refusal to do wedding flowers for a same-sex couple. "We're going to have to go through it over and over again. What I'm seeing coming from all corners is that this is part of the sea change. This isn't over. It's scratching and clawing, the last gasps. But we're not going back to segregated water fountains, women aren't going back home, and gays aren't going back in the closet."
The doors are all open now. "Seems like this is all going to get so big," Hanzon adds. "We'll have to decide as a nation once and for all whether we really are created equally, we really are the nation we thought we created."
Experience Lonnie Hanzon's interactive installation, "Equal Threshold," in the center of Denver's Civic Center Park at PrideFest on June 16 and 17. Charlie Craig and David Mullins, the couple who took their case against Phillips all the way to the Supreme Court, will be the grand marshals of the 2018 Coors Light PrideFest Parade, which kicks off at Cheesman Park at 9:30 a.m. Sunday, June 17. Find out more at denverpride.org.