By: Connor McNairn, Columnist
In 2015, the United States Supreme Court affirmed that same sex marriage is a constitutional right. In the controversial Obergefell v. Hodges decision, right-leaning Justice Kennedy, in addition to Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor and Kagan determined that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment protects the liberties of gay couples who seek marriage. While this decision is two years old, its influence remains omnipresent.
Later this fall, the Supreme Court will hear a case concerning the relationship between same-sex marriage and religious expression. Jack Phillips, a baker and co-owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Colorado, attracted national media attention in 2012 when he refused to provide a cake for a same-sex wedding. Phillips justified his decision by arguing that same-sex weddings violate his Christian beliefs. Further, Phillips contended that his cake-making is “artwork” and that he should not be forced to provide art for an event that he does not support. In contrast, the couple whom Phillips refused (David Mullins and Charlie Craig) argues that denying service to gay customers is genuinely discriminatory.
The Court’s decision will invariably take into account the results of prior court decisions pertaining to same-sex marriage as well Colorado anti-discrimination laws. First, two court cases in particular – Obergefell v. Hodges and Employment Division v. Smith – set clear precedents that ultimately favor Mullins and Craig. In Obergefell, the Court determined that same-sex marriage must be recognized in all 50 states because it is protected by the Fourteenth Amendment. Because Mullins and Craig’s marriage is legally recognized via the Obergefell decision, Mr. Phillips is actively refusing to provide services for a legally recognized union. Second, in Employment Division v. Smith, the Court determined that the free exercise of illegal actions, even if driven by religious motivations, is not justified if it violates law. Third, in the state of Colorado, businesses may not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. If the Colorado law specifically targeted Christians and their right to express religious sentiments, Phillips would likely have standing in his rejection of Mullins and Craig. In no way, however, does the Colorado state law specifically target or burden any form of religious expression; it only provides protections against discrimination.
In this case, Phillips lacks standing to refuse service to Mullins and Craig. Same-sex marriage has been validated by the United States Supreme Court. Even though Phillips’ original rejection of Mullins and Craig occurred before the Obergefell decision, the Court will likely build much of its argument on the 2015 precedent. Regardless of one’s religious preferences, the right for a same-sex couple to marry is as valid as a heterosexual couple’s. In addition, while Americans do enjoy the First Amendment right to freely speak and exercise their religion, it is not acceptable for that exercise to violate anti-discrimination laws. Because Colorado denies businesses the right to discriminate against sexual orientation, Phillips may not refuse to serve a couple based on their sexual orientation. After the couple challenged Phillips in local court, the court ordered that Phillips both provide the wedding cake and change company policies to prevent further discrimination. Phillips appealed the ruling and the Supreme Court has since decided to hear the case.
Though all of the aforementioned arguments are vital, it is important to note that Mullins and Craig have since married. Whatever the Court decides, it will not directly impact the couple who originally disputed Phillips’ rejection. Rather, the implications of this decision will impact the future ability, or lack thereof, of same-sex couples to receive service from those who disagree with homosexuality and same-sex marriage. It is likely that Court will rule against Phillips because his expression is in direct violation of state law and judicial precedent.