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Masterpiece: It’s not about the cake
Posted on May 7, 2018 at 10:03 am
EQTX Chief Program Officer Rebecca Robertson about the Masterpiece Cake Case

Later this summer, the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, a case that is likely to ignite a firestorm here in Texas, no matter the outcome.

The case arose in 2012, when Dave Mullins and Charlie Craig tried to buy a cake for their wedding reception from the Masterpiece Cakeshop in Denver, but were turned away by the shop owner because they are gay. Mullins and Craig notified the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, which investigated and found that Masterpiece had violated a Colorado law that bars businesses from denying service to customers on the basis of personal characteristics like race, sex, or sexual orientation. The Commission ruled that Masterpiece need not sell wedding cakes at all, but if it chooses to do so, must sell cakes to any customer who wants one. The shop owner has appealed that ruling all the way to the Supreme Court, arguing that he should be exempt from state civil rights laws because of his personal religious beliefs about homosexuality.

So why all the fuss over a cake?  The transaction that gave rise to the case may have involved a simple cake, but the case is about something much bigger.

The Masterpiece case is part of a coordinated strategy to roll back rights that LGBTQ people have spent decades fighting to achieve.  Masterpiece is represented in the case by Alliance Defending Freedom, a legal organization designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center for extremist anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and advocacy. ADF and its ilk have devised a cynical strategy to use religion as a justification for discrimination.  In this case, ADF is asking the Supreme Court to create a constitutional right to discriminate under the First Amendment, giving some people the right to ignore laws meant to protect everyone.  So much for “love thy neighbor,” huh?

If the opponents of equality have their way, such a license to discriminate could have consequences in many contexts beyond wedding-related services.  In a system where personal religious beliefs trump the law, the LGBTQ community will be targeted in every facet of our lives:

  • An ER doctor could refuse to treat a transgender patient needing urgent life-saving care.
  • A boss could fire a lesbian employee for talking about her wife with coworkers.
  • A waiter could refuse to serve LGBTQ patrons.
  • A school counselor could decline to help a gay student with college admissions.

Nor are these harms limited to the LGBTQ community. A license to discriminate against the LGBTQ community opens the door for service refusals against people of color, against women, against people of different faiths.  We long ago rejected this kind of discrimination in our country, because using religion to divide people is the antithesis of what we hold dear in America.

Texas is at the epicenter of these attacks in the guise of religion. Just last year, the Texas Legislature passed a law that permits state-funded foster and adoption agencies to discriminate against LGBTQ people, including the kids they’re meant to serve. And the Masterpiece case is likely to spawn a whole new round of bills aimed at creating a license to discriminate against the LGBTQ community.

All of us value the freedom to worship according to our own beliefs, and that’s why religious liberty is enshrined in the First Amendment. But religious liberty doesn’t give anyone the right to discriminate against us for being who we are.

At Equality Texas, we have no intention of letting our hard-won rights be stripped away.  No matter the outcome in Masterpiece, we’re ready to defend the LGBTQ community from assaults in the guise of religion.

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Small business owners know that being open to the public means being open to everyone. Inclusion and diversity are critical to a thriving economy and dynamic workforce. Meet the owners of Jenni’s Noodle House in Houston who would never deny service to anyone because of who they are or whom they love. No matter the outcome in the #Masterpiece case, we’re ready to defend the LGBTQ community from assaults in the guise of religion. Help us fight back.