A Cake, Religion, and Discrimination Divide the Country

It all began in 2012 when Charlie Craig and David Mullins walked into a boutique bakery in Lakewood, Colorado, to order their wedding cake. Jack Philips, the bakery chef and owner, told the couple they could buy muffins that were already made for daily sale, or he could make them a birthday cake or other celebration cake, but a wedding cake for their special day? Not a chance! His Christian religious beliefs did not allow him to provide that service for homosexual customers.

The state’s Civil Rights Commission fined the baker, who does not make cakes for Halloween parties or divorce celebrations, charging him with violating the couple’s civil rights. The case reached the Supreme Court and this Monday, by a 7-2 vote, the court ruled that Colorado authorities violated the baker’s right to free expression guaranteed by the Constitution.

The case has divided the country. There are those who believe it is the rights of gays and lesbians that are being denied, while others think that everyone is free to choose and practice religion in the best way one sees fit. The general consensus is that this is the most important ruling from the highest court in the land regarding homosexuals since the decision three years ago on June 26, 2015 when the Supreme Court voted in favor of same sex marriage.

At the center of the current debate is the discussion of whether a cake is a service or a work of art that requires inspiration, involving emotion and feelings and if, in reality, it is a platform to express oneself. The couple left the bakery — which, by the way, is named Masterpiece — without having discussed either the decoration or the message they wanted in frosting. For some, they were simply denied service for being a same-sex couple.

The problem for others is that it is not just a cake. Everyone has the right to celebrate their love without discrimination. However, there are other services, like those for a wedding, being denied to same-sex couples in the name of religion: In Washington state, there is the case of the florist refusing to make floral arrangements; in New Mexico, a photographer declined services for the same reason. In Indiana, a pizzeria announced it would not serve homosexual couples.

For some experts, it was not that the justices — with the exception of the two most liberal judges, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Puerto Rican Sonia Sotomayor who voted against the court’s decision — gave permission to discriminate against homosexuals on the basis of religion, but that they made it clear if a merchant is Christian or Jewish or Muslim or Hindu, the merchant run the business guided by his or her beliefs.

Nevertheless, activist groups and gay community rights supporters insist that the Supreme Court decision about the baker is against homosexuals and leaves the door open for them to be considered second-class citizens in many aspects of daily life.

After all, in 28 of 50 states it is legal to deny them the ability to rent or purchase a home, and in places like Oklahoma, gay or lesbian couples are, in many cases, denied the choice of adopting a child. This, despite the fact that they actively participate in the civic life of the country, work, and pay taxes like everyone else.

It is estimated that four out of 10 Americans agree that services for a homosexual wedding can be refused on the basis of the merchant’s religious beliefs. Of them, 67 percent are Republicans and 65 percent are white evangelicals. Meanwhile, according to another recent poll, 53 percent of the population is against refusing service.

President Trump has not offered an opinion on the subject, but Attorney General Jeff Sessions applauded the Supreme Court decision and said it showed tolerance and respect toward religious beliefs. Still, a group of 500 Christian leaders issued a statement making it clear that religious freedom must never be used as justification to discriminate. The case surrounding the cake, and everything else involved, has the country divided.

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