Even the name of Jack Phillips’ bakery, Masterpiece Cakeshop, is meant to evoke his dedication to his art and his devotion to his God — his “master.”
“I can’t follow two masters, and I need to serve just one: Jesus Christ,” Mr. Phillips told The Washington Times, explaining how the Colorado baker has become the face of the biggest gay rights legal case since the Supreme Court established a national right to marry someone of the same sex, after he refused to make a cake for a gay wedding.
Mr. Phillips’ attorneys will argue to the Supreme Court on Monday that baking is his artistic speech, and to force him to bake for a cause he doesn’t believe in would mean violating his First Amendment rights.
On the other side will be the American Civil Liberties Union, representing Charlie Craig and Dave Mullins, who were wed in Massachusetts, which performed same-sex marriages at the time in 2012, but wanted a cake for a celebration back home in Colorado.
When they asked Mr. Phillips to bake for the ceremony, he refused.
“I’ll make you birthday cakes, shower cakes, sell you cookies and brownies, I just don’t make cakes for same-sex weddings,” he said, according to court documents.
Debbie Munn, Mr. Craig’s mother, who was at the bakery with the couple, couldn’t believe what she was hearing.
“I was sitting in the back of the car, and I could see my son’s shoulders were starting to shake. He had broke down, and he was crying. We were treated like we had done something wrong,” she said on a call arranged by the ACLU.
The case is the country’s latest test in a long-running battle over gay rights and the religious freedom of those who believe same-sex marriage is immoral.
After years of courtroom losses, religious advocates believe they have finally found a winning case with the First Amendment.
Mr. Phillips says his baking is an artistic expression as much as a painter’s canvas or a writer’s prose.
“All my life when I was a kid, I had a pencil in my hand. I wasn’t out playing. I was drawing,” Mr. Phillips said. “I had an art teacher — a poetry teacher — take me aside and teach me about watercolors.”
After he graduated from school, Mr. Phillips got his first job at a bakery, marrying his love for art and baking.
He would open Masterpiece in Lakewood, Colorado, in 1993, and said he has always abided by certain rules: He won’t sell cakes that have anti-American messages, nor will he make custom cakes that go against the Bible’s teachings. That means no Halloween cakes and no same-sex marriage cakes.
“I’ve declined to do cakes to disparage the LGBT community, and I won’t do those either, so it’s not just one issue,” he said. “These are just some of the things that go against my Christian faith, and we just always done it that way.”
At one point, he turned away a lesbian couple who wanted cupcakes to celebrate their union. That was before Mr. Craig and Mr. Mullins came to his shop.
The lesbian couple didn’t file a formal complaint with the state, though, according to Mr. Phillips’ attorney Kristen Waggoner of Alliance Defending Freedom, a religious liberty law firm.
But others took to Facebook to share their experiences.
A commenter wrote in 2010 that she and her fiance were “met by a friendly woman who quickly turned holy-roller judgmental when she found out we were doing a Halloween-themed wedding,” according to KDVR, a local Fox affiliate.
For Mr. Craig and Mr. Mullins, their encounter was on July 19, 2012, after their wedding planner recommended Masterpiece. They sat down for a consultation with Mr. Phillips. They introduced themselves as David and Charlie and said they needed a cake for “our wedding.”
Mr. Phillips said he could make them cakes but not for a same-sex wedding. The two men immediately got up and left. They never even talked about what the cake would look like, the men say.
Colorado has a public accommodation law that prohibits stores, restaurants, hotels and other institutions from discriminating based on sexual orientation, among other categories.
Ms. Munn, Mr. Craig’s mother, phoned the shop the next day, and Mr. Phillips said he wouldn’t bake the cake because of his religion and because the state did not recognize same-sex marriages.
“Knowing that Colorado was a nondiscriminatory state, I could not believe that a business owner — someone who makes pastries — could simply turn someone away because of who they are,” Ms. Munn says now.
The couple later found a bakery that made them a rainbow cake.
But they filed a complaint against Masterpiece with the Colorado Civil Rights Division, which decided that Mr. Phillips engaged in unlawful discrimination against the couple. A state administrative law judge then ruled against the baker, saying it wasn’t a matter of speech — he didn’t even wait to hear what the men wanted the cake to say — but rather the identity of the men.
“For all Phillips knew at the time, complainants might have wanted a nondescript cake that would have been suitable for consumption at any wedding,” Administrative Law Judge Robert N. Spencer wrote.
The case now stands before the Supreme Court, with oral argument slated for next week.
Mr. Phillips says the Colorado authorities botched the case by judging his cakes as a commodity rather than as a work of art. The Trump administration has backed him, filing briefs saying since he makes a custom cake for each couple, his baking could be seen as an endorsement of them or their viewpoints.
Although Mr. Phillips wants the focus on his art, Mr. Mullins and Mr. Craig say the focus should be on their identity.
“This is not about the cake. Charlie and Dave walked into the Cakeshop and were turned away because of who they are,” said Louise Melling, deputy legal director at the ACLU. “The stakes could not be higher. A ruling against them at the Supreme Court will not just encourage other businesses to engage in similarly discriminatory practices: It will enshrine a constitutional right to discriminate.”