Wedding Cake Law – Religious Liberty vs LGBT Rights

Same-sex marriage is not as unusual today as it had been many years ago. However, despite more places and people accepting the union, there are still instances when other beliefs may clash with the idea. For example, in the case of Masterpiece Cakeshop v Colorado Civil Rights Commission, a bakery denied Charlie Craig and David Mullins their wedding cake. The following post examines public accommodations regulations and the LGBT community.

Case Overview

In 2012, Charlie Craig and David Mullins were scouting for their wedding cake. They walked into Masterpiece Cakeshop to order one but the proprietor, Jack Phillips, declined to make them a wedding cake. According to Phillips, he could sell the couple some cookies or a birthday cake, but he could not provide “cakes for same-sex weddings” because of their policy. Phillips was described as a Christian who works to honor “God in all aspects of his life.” More importantly, he also considers same-sex or gay marriage as “sacrilegious.” That is why he doesn’t want “to express through his art an idea about marriage that conflicts with his religious beliefs.”

In many parts of the United States, the situation may have just ended when the couple left the shop. However, for Colorado and several other states, they have public accommodations laws. These regulations ban businesses or proprietors from refusing service to individuals by identity markers like sexual orientation.

When the couple raised a complaint to the state’s civil rights agency, the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop got an ultimatum. He had to make wedding cakes both for straight and gay couples alike or stop offering the cakes entirely. The owner hired a lawyer and filed a lawsuit. According to Phillips, his First Amendment rights were violated because he declined to “design custom cakes that celebrate any form of marriage other than between a husband and a wife.”


Initially, Phillips’s claim on free-speech may have had the upper hand. In recent years, the Supreme Court has recognized the demands of people about violating their freedom of expression. Nonetheless, Phillips realized that his religious stance might be the weaker argument, so he devoted only three pages out of 26 pages of his claim to the issue.

However, Douglas Laycock of the University of Virginia, one of the foremost legal scholars of religious liberty in the United States, filed a brief arguing for the right to take a religious position. The brief supported the claim of Phillips about religious freedom.

According to Laycock’s brief, religious liberty can be considered as a God-given right. However, it is difficult to enact laws protecting both religious people and gays and lesbians because of a polarized political environment. Laycock argues that no one should be left out because the country’s constitution “promises liberty to all within its reach.”

With that said, there is now the argument that what when Phillips refused to sell the wedding cake to Craig and Mullins, it shouldn’t be considered as denying service to same-sex couples. Technically, the baker is still willing to sell his products to men. He also customizes cakes for many occasions. When he refused to sell the cake to the gay couple, he was only supposedly asserting his “right to act on conscious in a religious context—in connection with a wedding.” The key is here that Phillips upholds weddings as religious.

If we examine Colorado’s public accommodations law, it says that the person should assist in celebrating the wedding. However, the baker’s belief about marriages should be weighed appropriately. It is accepted jurisprudence for the Supreme Court to trust plaintiffs when they claim their religious beliefs are threatened. More importantly, the justices have little interest over second-guessing the view of people.

However, it’s important to differentiate between a person claiming that his religious beliefs are threatened and another person defining the undertaking of another individual as “inherently religious,” especially if the third party claims that it is a different interpretation of that religious belief. The brief from Laycock enables any business owner in the United States to influence the endeavors of their customers according to specific religious filters. They can also refuse service to people if he or she finds their ways against their beliefs. This can create many problems since businesses and owners have different natures, cultural backgrounds, and religious standpoints. Anyone can refuse to offer their services or products to just about anyone if they find they don’t adhere to their perspectives.

There is also a problem in Laylock’s attempt to interpret Colorado’s public accommodations law as “not applicable” to everyone. While Laycock seeks to overturn views on religious grounds, a few things can affect this. The public accommodations law in Colorado tries to provide for those traditionally burdened segments of the market like lesbians and gays, and it means to protect those people against discrimination. The rules don’t target religious believers. However, as religion and sexual orientation continue to be discussed, interpretations of laws about them can still be difficult to settle.