Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

What today’s Supreme Court opinion means for LGBTQ communities

What does the Supreme Court’s 7-2 decision today in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission actually say about laws barring discrimination based on sexual orientation in public accommodations?

Justice Kennedy, writing for the majority, is clear: “It is unexceptional that Colorado law can protect gay persons, just as it can protect other classes of individuals, in acquiring whatever products and services they choose on the same terms and conditions as are offered to other members of the public.”

As the ACLU (attorneys for the cake-seeking couple in this case) explains, this decision reaffirms “the core principle that businesses open to the public must be open to all.”

What then, does this decision do? The Supreme Court does find in favor of the baker, Jack Phillips, but on extremely limited, fact-specific grounds.

The majority opinion finds that Phillips was not afforded the neutral and respectful consideration he was due — both because remarks by a member of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission displayed hostility towards the baker’s religious beliefs, and because the Colorado Court of Appeals appeared to impermissibly assess the legitimacy of Phillips’ underlying religious objections.

The Supreme Court therefore found that the Commission’s failure to treat Phillips in a neutral manner violated the Free Exercise clause of the Constitution and reversed the Colorado Court of Appeals decision upholding the Commission.

The big question — whether a religious objection can justify refusing service to a same-sex couple — was left for another day.

The Campaign for Southern Equality said it believes the Supreme Court will ultimately rule that LGBTQ people are protected from that type of discrimination.

The Asheville-based organization released a statement following the opinion reiterating that it does not invalidate non-discrimination laws that protect LGBTQ people.

“Here in the South, we see daily evidence of the growing support for LGBTQ equality, even as we continue to face discriminatory laws,” said Executive Director, the Rev. Jasmine Beach-Ferrara. “We will continue to fight for full equality — and nothing less.”

Equality NC in Raleigh encouraged state lawmakers to pass non-discrimination protections like those contained in House Bill 906 and for Congress to pass the Equality Act to create one set of rules for everyone.

“It’s time for our nation’s laws to catch up to our nation’s values and protect all Americans from discrimination, so that no one can be fired from their job, denied a place to live, or turned away from a business simply because of who they are,” a news release states.

Equality NC Executive Director Kendra R. Johnson said today’s opinion does not change the core American principle that businesses open to the public should be open to all.

“However, today’s decision makes it painfully clear that LGBTQ North Carolinians still lack crucial protections from discrimination,” she said. “The time is now for our leadership to do the right thing and pass non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people and their families.”