DENVER — Supporters of same-sex marriage are taking their fight to new venues daily — first to the courts, then to state legislatures, and now to bakeries.
The owner of a Colorado bakery who refused to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple is fighting a civil-rights complaint filed May 31 by the attorney general’s office. A hearing is scheduled for Sept. 23 before an administrative-law judge in Denver.
The case comes as the latest wrinkle in the legal struggle between gay rights and religious freedom as same-sex marriages and commitment ceremonies become more commonplace. On the front lines are those in wedding-related business, including cake shop employees, photographers and caterers.
Charlie Craig and Dave Mullins filed a complaint after Jack Phillips, owner of the Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, Colo., declined in July 2012 to bake a cake for their wedding reception because he said it conflicts with his religious beliefs.
Mr. Craig and Mr. Mullins were planning to marry in Massachusetts, where two men can legally marry, and hold a reception afterward in Denver.
“I’m a follower of Jesus Christ, so you could say this is a religious belief,” Mr. Phillips told Denver Fox affiliate KDVR-TV. “I believe the Bible teaches that this is not an OK thing.”
The American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado, which represents the couple, says Mr. Phillips‘ stance conflicts with Colorado civil-rights law, which bans retail businesses from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation.
“The Masterpiece owners have claimed their policy is based on their ‘reading of the Word of God.’ But their business is not a house of worship,” the ACLU said Thursday in a press release. “While bakery owners are free to practice their faith and to personally oppose same-sex marriage, they cannot use those beliefs as an excuse to disrespect and discriminate against customers.”
The Colorado case is one of a half-dozen wedding-related clashes nationwide. A lesbian couple in Oregon is exploring legal action after being turned down earlier this year for a wedding cake by two bakeries, according to the Willamette Week.
The Baltimore Sun reported that the owner of an Annapolis trolley company decided to stop providing rides for all just-married couples rather than do so for gay couples under the state’s recently passed same-sex marriage law.
Thomas Peters, spokesman for the National Organization for Marriage, said retailers have a First Amendment right to follow their religious convictions against same-sex marriage. He also argued that business owners are not discriminating because they’re willing to provide services for gay individuals, just not those related to gay marriages.
“This begs the question of whether marriage itself somehow represents sexual-orientation discrimination,” Mr. Peters said.
Same-sex couples say they’re being singled out, arguing that the same bakeries are willing to provide cakes for other events that flout Christian principles, such as divorce celebrations, weddings involving divorced people and baby showers for unmarried couples.
In Colorado, a second same-sex pair called Masterpiece Cakeshop and asked for a cake for a dog wedding. The bakery agreed to provide the cake, according to the ACLU.
“Imagine being told that the love between you and your partner is less legitimate than a dog wedding,” the ACLU press release said.
Critics dismiss those examples as publicity stunts. Nicolle Martin, an attorney representing Mr. Phillips, said a court ruling against her client would “force him to choose between his conscience and a paycheck.”
“We don’t believe that this is a case about commerce,” Ms. Martin told The Associated Press. “At its heart, this is a case about conscience.”