DENVER — The Colorado Court of Appeals ruled Thursday against a Christian baker who refused to prepare a wedding cake for a same-sex ceremony, rejecting the argument that doing so would violate his First Amendment rights.
A three-judge panel of the court upheld unanimously a Colorado Civil Rights Commission ruling against Jack Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, after he declined in July 2012 to bake a wedding cake for Charlie Craig and David Mullins.
Mr. Phillips said that creating a wedding cake for a gay couple would force him to convey a message with which he disagrees, but the court said in its opinion that the bakery is a public accommodation and thus forbidden by Colorado law from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation.
As a result, “a reasonable observer would understand that Masterpiece’s compliance with the law is not a reflection of its own beliefs,” said the court.
“We conclude that the act of designing and selling a wedding cake to all customers free of discrimination does not convey a celebratory message about same-sex weddings likely to be understood by those who view it,” said Judge Daniel M. Taubman in the 64-page opinion.
“We further conclude that, to the extent that the public infers from a Masterpiece wedding cake a message celebrating same-sex marriage, that message is more likely to be attributed to the customer than to Masterpiece,” said the opinion.
Mr. Phillips, who is represented by attorneys with the conservative Alliance Defending Freedom, has pointed out that his bakery routinely serves gay customers and prepares cakes for them for other occasions such as birthdays.
But the court said that the bakery’s distinction between serving gay customers and baking a gay wedding cake is “one without a difference.”
“But for their sexual orientation, Craig and Mullins would not have sought to enter into a same-sex marriage, and but for their intent to do so, Masterpiece would not have denied them its services,” said the opinion.
Mr. Phillips did not immediately say whether he would appeal the decision to the Colorado Supreme Court.
“Americans are guaranteed the freedom to live and work consistent with their faith. Government has a duty to protect people’s freedom to follow their beliefs personally and professionally rather than force them to adopt the government’s views,” said ADF senior legal counsel Jeremy Tedesco in a statement.
“Jack simply exercised the long-cherished American freedom to decline to use his artistic talents to promote a message with which he disagrees. The court is wrong to deny Jack his fundamental freedoms. We will discuss further legal options,” Mr. Tedesco said.
Ria Mar, attorney with the ACLU’s LGBT Project, called the court’s decision a “big win.”
“When every lesbian or gay person, every woman, every person of color, every person of every faith can walk into a store, a bank, a hospital, and know that they will get the same service as everyone else, we will have won. Until then, we continue to fight for the equal treatment we all deserve,” Ms. Mar said.