Most everyone watching the news these days has heard of the Masterpiece Cakeshop case, which challenges the Colorado Civil Rights Commission’s ruling that a baker broke the law when he refused to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple on account of his own devoutly Christian beliefs. The case presents a conflict between the First Amendment right to religious freedom versus the authority of the states to protect the rights of gay and lesbian persons. Many of us have been following the Masterpiece Cakeshop case in front of the U.S. Supreme Court with the expectation that a decision that could have ripple effects on various anti-discrimination laws. Monday, the Court ruled 7-2 in favor of the bakery. However, the decision was based on very narrow grounds and did not resolve the bigger questions raised in the case. The Court held the Colorado Civil Rights Commission’s treatment of the baker’s case violated the State’s duty under the First Amendment because its enforcement of the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act was flawed. It noted that the “commission’s consideration of Phillips’ case was neither tolerant nor respectful of his religious beliefs.”
Although the ruling in the case was not as significant as expected, it still warrants mention. In particular, the decision does not invalidate the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act or other states’ equivalents, nor does it provide a new defense for businesses/employers seeking to avoid claims under state civil rights laws. The ruling here truly turned on the Colorado Commission’s failure to provide a fair and neutral process in this particular case. The Court left the door open to potentially decide on LGBT civil rights issues in future.