Court’s ruling on baker on the right track

By

Opinion

June 4, 2018 - 11:00 PM

The Supreme Court temporized on Monday on a major question of LGBT civil rights — specifically, whether a state can require a wedding cake baker to sell his products to same-sex couples as he does to heterosexual couples. Avoiding a sweeping decision, the justices nevertheless laid the foundations for a more ambitious ruling in the future. Businesses cannot pick and choose their customers based on race. States should be able to extend that simple fairness to LGBT people, too. The court on Monday came closer to saying so.

By a 7-to-2 vote, the justices found that the state of Colorado, which has a strong anti-discrimination law forbidding businesses from discriminating among customers based on sexual orientation, impermissibly violated a cake baker’s religious freedoms by sanctioning him after he refused to sell a wedding cake to a same-sex couple, of the same sort the baker routinely made for heterosexual couples. When the couple complained, the Colorado Civil Rights Commission referred the case to a judge, who agreed with the couple.

The case could have tested how far states can go in requiring fairness for LGBT people in the public marketplace. But the majority opinion dodged the question, instead condemning the state’s Civil Rights Commission for improper reasoning in applying Colorado’s anti-discrimination law. The government “cannot act in a manner that passes judgment upon or presupposes the illegitimacy of religious beliefs and practices,” Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote for the majority. In considering the baker’s case, the commission “was neither tolerant nor respectful of [baker Jack] Phillips’ religious beliefs.”

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