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Masterpiece Cakeshop in Court: Owner Wants OK Not to Make Gay-Wedding Cakes

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Back in July 2012, we reported about a controversy that arose after Masterpiece Cakeshop refused to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple, Charlie Craig and David Mullins.

For the three years since then, the case has been winding its way through the legal system — and a hearing today represents the latest step in its journey.

In May 2014, the Colorado Civil Rights Commission upheld an administrative judge's December 2013 ruling that Masterpiece and its owner, Jack Phillips, violated Colorado's anti-discrimination laws.

Phillips's attorney, Nicolle Martin, who's affiliated with the faith-based Alliance Defending Freedom, appealed the decision — and today, oral arguments are taking place in the Colorado Court of Appeals

This past April, 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.

The ACLU of Colorado, which has long supported Craig and Mullins, takes a very different view.

In a statement, ACLU of Colorado legal director Mark Silverstein says, “Nobody gets to pick and choose which laws they want to follow. If a business owner is allowed to simply cite personal beliefs as a basis for turning away same-sex couples, then what stops a doctor from denying medical care or a pharmacist from denying a prescription?”

These sentiments are shared by ACLU deputy director Louise Melling, who maintains that “this case has never been about cakes. Let me be clear: This is about sending a message that open for business in America means open to all. We strongly believe that freedom of religion is our constitutional right and we will continue to defend it, but religion should not be used as an excuse to discriminate. That’s why we’re fighting for Dave and Charlie and others who are victims of discrimination in the name of religion.”

Mullins and Craig are also weighing in. “As marriage equality becomes law all across the nation, it’s especially disheartening that we’re still fighting this battle where businesses like Masterpiece Cakeshop feel they can violate the law and discriminate against us just because of who we are and who we love,” Mullins notes in a statement of his own

Craig adds, “It’s time we moved on from using religion as an excuse to discriminate. No one should be told they are less than anyone else, especially at a joyous time like a wedding.”

Look below to see a 7News piece broadcast after the Civil Rights Commission ruling in 2014. That's followed by two documents that provide deeper insight into the case. The first is the commission's final order. The second is a February 2015 brief filed by the Colorado Attorney General's Office defending the ruling by the commission.

Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.

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