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CO Supreme Court Won't Hear Appeal in Gay-Wedding-Cake Case

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Update: Last August, the Colorado Court of Appeals ruled against Jack Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, in a case that involved his refusal to make a wedding cake for a gay couple, Charlie Craig and David Mullins; see our previous coverage below.

Now, the Colorado Supreme Court is letting the appellate-court ruling stand — a development that thrilled Ria Tabacco Mar, a staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union's LGBT Project, who argued the case on behalf of Craig and Mullins.

“The highest court in Colorado today affirmed that no one should be turned away from a public-facing business because of who they are or who they love,” Tabacco Mar said in a statement. “We all have a right to our personal beliefs, but we do not have a right to impose those beliefs on others and discriminate against them. We hope today’s win will serve as a lesson for others that equality and fairness should be our guiding principles and that discrimination has no place at the table — or the bakery, as the case may be.”

Continue for more details about the controversy and the appeals-court ruling.

Original post, August 13, 2015: Last month, we updated you about the latest hearing in the Masterpiece Cakeshop controversy.

Both an administrative law judge and the Colorado Civil Rights Commission had previously found that Masterpiece had discriminated against Charlie Craig and David Mullins by refusing to make them a cake for their wedding back in 2012.

Masterpiece owner Jack Phillips appealed these findings.

This morning, however, the Colorado Court of Appeals ruled against him, finding once again that the shop was guilty of discrimination in the incident. The document is included below.

This past April, as we've reported, our Melanie Asmar shared the following examples from Phillips's legal team to support his belief that he had the right not to make the cake:

(Phillips's) work is intimately connected to his faith. He believes God granted him artistic and creative abilities and that he is religiously obligated to use those abilities in a manner that honors God. He thus declines to create cakes that convey messages that are contrary to his religious convictions, like those celebrating atheism, racism, indecency, or Halloween.

Nor will Phillips create wedding cakes honoring same-sex marriages, regardless who orders them, because Phillips believes that God ordained marriage as the sacred union between one man and one woman.

There are some 300 other bakeries in the Denver area that are available to fulfill such requests. The State has no vital interest in compelling Phillips personally to provide such a non-essential service, especially when scores of other bakeries are ready and willing to do so.

Phillips is forced to choose between following his religious beliefs or staying in business. No state should put its citizens to such a Hobson’s Choice.

Granting Phillips’ request that CADA (Colorado's Anti-Discrimination Act) be enforced in a manner that respects his free speech and free exercise rights will not undermine the protections public accommodations and other laws provide against discrimination. It will simply recognize and reaffirm that such laws violate the First Amendment when they are “applied to expressive activity.”

And its scope would be limited to those businesses that create and sell expression. ... It would thus protect the right of Colorado baker Marjorie Silva to decline to create a cake that references biblical teaching about sex and marriage based on her “standards of offensiveness,” or a gay Colorado photographer to decline an offer from Westboro Baptist Church to shoot photos at its latest demonstration.

None of these arguments held water with the Colorado Court of Appeals, whose decision was unanimous. Here's an excerpt detailing some of the reasons the judges shot down Phillips's arguments:

The only issues before the [administrative law judge] were (1) whether Masterpiece violated [the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act] by categorically refusing to serve Craig and Mullins because of its opposition to same-sex marriage and, if so, (2) whether CADA, as applied to Masterpiece, violated its rights to freedom of expression and free exercise of religion. Evidence pertaining to Craig’s and Mullins’ wedding ceremony — including the nature of the cake they served — had no bearing on the legality of Masterpiece’s conduct. The decision to categorically deny service to Craig and Mullins was based only on their request for a wedding cake and Masterpiece’s own beliefs about same-sex marriage. Because Craig and Mullins never conveyed any details of their desired cake to Masterpiece, evidence about their wedding cake and details of their wedding ceremony were not relevant. 

The decision sums up the matter like so: "Masterpiece remains free to continue espousing its religious beliefs, including its opposition to same-sex marriage. However, if it wishes to operate as a public accommodation and conduct business within the State of Colorado, CADA prohibits it from picking and choosing its customers based on their sexual orientation.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado, which has backed Craig and Mullins throughout three years the case has been winding its way through the legal system, is celebrating the ruling.

Ria Mar, a staff attorney for the organization's LGBT Project, who argued the case, said in a statement: "Today is a proud day for equality and for upholding the law. In America, no one should be turned away from a shop or restaurant because of who they are or who they love,” said“When every lesbian or gay person, every woman, every person of color, every person of every faith can walk into a store, a bank, a hospital, and know that they will get the same service as everyone else, we will have won. Until then, we continue to fight for the equal treatment we all deserve. Today we can celebrate this big win."

Look below to see a 7News report from 2014, when the Civil Rights Commission judgment came down, followed by today's decision.

Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.

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