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READ: Oral Arguments of Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission

06 December 2017, 01:06 | Myrtle Vega

Jack Phillips says he shouldn't have to violate his religious beliefs to provide for his family and employees

Jack Phillips says he shouldn't have to violate his religious beliefs to provide for his family and employees

In one of the most animated oral arguments the high court has held, justices on both sides peppered four lawyers with questions to illustrate how their decision might affect other merchants, such as chefs and florists, and other minority groups, such as Catholics and African Americans.

The Supreme Court justices appeared split along ideological lines except for Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, who lobbed both parties with tough questions on Tuesday, in a case testing the limits of gay rights and First Amendment freedoms.

Kennedy was concerned that the allowing such an exception here would essentially allow businesses to boycott gays and lesbians. But he also accused Colorado officials of exhibiting a "hostility to religion".

But later he said Colorado had been "neither tolerant nor respectful" of the religious views of Denver-area baker Jack Phillips.

The case will have its most direct impact on the approximately 22 states that bar discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation by establishments that do business with the public.

Phillips, 61, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, is fighting for the rights of "creative artists" to choose what they will sell.

Mr Mullins and Mr Craig continue to argue that they have been discriminated against.

All three sat in the third row of the court's public section for the roughly 85-minute oral argument inside the packed courtroom.

By all appearances, the case will divide the justices along ideological lines. Justice Sonia Sotomayor asked. "The hair stylist?. The makeup artist?" "A custom wedding cake is not an ordinary baked good; its function is more communicative and artistic than utilitarian", Solicitor General Noel Francisco argued.

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Chief Justice John Roberts said Catholic Legal Services could be forced to provide free representation to a same-sex couple in a marital dispute. It follows a legal analysis similar to that originally proposed by Banzhaf, who suggested that anti-discrimination statutes prevent discrimination based upon the characteristics of a potential customer (e.g., being gay), but not upon a refusal to send a message related to that characteristic (e.g., preparing a same-sex wedding cake).

The Texas court basically found that while gay marriage is now the law of the land in all states, that doesn't necessarily entitle gay couples to the same benefits of marriage as hetero couples, particularly pointing to someone's ability to receive insurance through their partner's employment. But the Supreme Court, bolstered in April by the addition of stalwart conservative and fellow Coloradan Neil Gorsuch, could be a different story.

"We got your back Jack", read signs backing the baker.

The Democratic National Committee also weighed in on the case, vowing to eventually change the law to recognize same-sex spouses' marriages.

SCOTUS rejected an appeal of an earlier Texas Supreme Court decision, which undermined marriage equality by denying same-sex couples the rights and privileges they supposedly were entitled to following the landmark 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges decision.

"It must be emphasized that religions, and those who adhere to religious doctrines, may continue to advocate with utmost, honest conviction that, by divine precepts, same-sex marriage should not be condoned", Kennedy wrote in 2015. The nation's highest federal court agreed to review the case in June this year.

Over the past three months, the high court has been flooded with almost 100 "friend of the court" briefs, equally divided between the two sides. In fact, the case could prove significant in determining how and where discrimination laws, freedom of expression, and religious liberty intersect.

It was June of this year when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 6-3 against an Arkansas law forbidding same-sex couples from being listed on a child's birth certificate.

A decision is expected in the summer.



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