LAKEWOOD, Colo. — A bakery owner who refused to prepare a wedding cake for a gay couple heads to court Wednesday in a case closely watched for its implications on religious freedom in a society that increasingly embraces same-sex marriage.
Jack Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, is accused of violating state public-accommodation law by declining for religious reasons in June 2012 to bake a cake for David Mullins and Charlie Craig’s reception.
The case has become a cause celebre for gay-rights advocates, who argue that Mr. Phillips violated anti-discrimination laws by refusing service to the couple. The bakery has since been the target of protests and boycotts for more than a year.
“Everyone is entitled to their own religious beliefs, but Mr. Phillips chose to operate his business in the public sphere and his beliefs do not give him a right to discriminate,” said Sara J. Rich, staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado, which represents the couple, in a document.
Meanwhile, Denver talk-show host Peter Boyles of KNUS-AM is championing Mr. Phillips’ cause, whipping up public support for the bakery even though Mr. Boyles says he’s in favor of same-sex marriage.
“I’m a huge supporter of gay rights, gay weddings, gay marriage, adoption rights, but these guys are wrong and the Masterpiece Cakeshop is right,” said Mr. Boyles on Monday’s broadcast.
Mr. Phillips “doesn’t say, ‘You can’t come in here and buy’; he says, ‘I’m not going to make you a cake of two men getting married,’” said Mr. Boyles. “As much as I support two men getting married, I support his right to say no.”
Mr. Boyles points out that the Masterpiece Cakeshop won’t make Halloween cakes, either. Gay-rights advocates counter that the bakery will create cakes for dog “weddings,” although the shop’s supporters argue that such ceremonies are make-believe.
So far, business owners who try to draw the line at gay marriage haven’t fared well in court. In August, the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled against Elane Photography for refusing to take photos for a same-sex marriage ceremony.
“[W]hen Elane Photography refused to photograph a same-sex commitment ceremony, it violated the [New Mexico Human Rights Act] in the same way as if it had refused to photograph a wedding between people of different races,” the court ruled in a unanimous opinion.
Neither Colorado nor New Mexico has legalized same-sex marriage. The Colorado couple seeking the wedding cake was married in Massachusetts.
Jordan Lorence, attorney for Alliance Defending Freedom, said some business products, such as cakes, photographs and even tattoos, also communicate a message. By compelling such business owners to convey that message or shut down, he said, the government is infringing on their First Amendment rights.
“The reason for the cake is not simply to feed people. A wedding cake is an iconic symbol of a marriage,” said Mr. Lorence. “What they’re telling him is, ‘You’ve got to produce this image or you’ll be punished by the state.’”
Businesses on the flip side often refuse to cater to clients they disagree with, he said. In New Mexico, for example, hairstylist Antonio Darden has been lionized in the press for dropping Gov. Susana Martinez as a client because she opposes same-sex marriage.
“People who think these businesses should lose in court are assuming, ‘I’m never going to be asked to do anything in my business that I disagree with,’” said Mr. Lorence. “‘I don’t need this right at all.’ But the government tends to make people believe whatever the prevailing orthodoxy is, as we saw with anti-communism” during the 1950s McCarthy era.
The Lakewood cakeshop case was filed by Colorado Attorney General John Suthers after the civil-rights division concluded that the bakery had violated the state law. Both sides have agreed on the facts and filed motions for summary judgment, although a ruling isn’t expected immediately after Wednesday’s hearing in Denver.
Nicolle Martin, an attorney for Mr. Phillips who is working with Allied Defending Freedom, said the case boils down to whether the government can force people to change their beliefs.
The two gay men “told 9News that they just want to change his opinion about gay weddings,” said Ms. Martin on KNUS-AM. “That’s not what the public-accommodation statute is for. It’s not to change people’s minds, and get them to walk in lockstep and think alike.”