In a 64-page decision, a three-judge panel on the Colorado Court of Appeals found the Lakewood-based Masterpiece Cakeshop violated the 2014 Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act for refusing to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple.
“Masterpiece remains free to continue espousing its religious beliefs, including its opposition to same-sex marriage,” the decision says. “However, if it wishes to operate as a public accommodation and conduct business within the State of Colorado, CADA prohibits it from picking and choosing customers based on their sexual orientation.”
In July 2012, Charlie Craig and David Mullins, a same-sex couple, asked Jack Phillips, the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, to design and produce a wedding cake for their same-sex wedding in Massachusetts. Phillips refused based on his religious beliefs, but said he would happy to make and sell them other baked goods.
In 2013, the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Colorado filed a lawsuit on behalf of Mullins and Craig, alleging the bakery discriminated on the basis of sexual orientation. In December 2013, an administrative judge ruled the bakery had illegally discriminated against the couple — a decision affirmed by the Colorado Civil Rights Commission.
Masterpiece Cakeshop appealed to the Colorado Court of Appeals, saying it has right under protections of freedom of religion under the First Amendment to refuse a wedding cake to the couple.
The decision, written by Judge Daniel Taubman, dismisses each of the arguments raised by the bakery in the lawsuit. Among them was the idea the bakery wasn’t discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation by denying the couple a wedding cake because the company was willing to sell the two other goods.
“We conclude that the act of same-sex marriage is closely correlated to Craig’s and Mullins’ sexual orientation, and therefore, the ALJ did not err when he found that Masterpiece’s refusal to create a wedding cake for Craig and Mullins was ‘because of’ their sexual orientation, in violation of CADA,” the decision says.
The court upholds the Colorado Civil Rights Commission’s order for the bakery, which is (1) taking remedial measures to ensure compliance with the state’s civil rights law, including comprehensive staff training and alteration to the company’s policies; and (2) filing quarterly compliance reports for two years describing the remedial measures as well as documenting all patrons who are denied service and the reasons for the denial. No other punishment, such as fines, were included as part of the order.
Ria Mar, who argued the case on behalf of the staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union’s LGBT Project, hailed the decision.
“Today is a proud day for equality and for upholding the law. In America, no one should be turned away from a shop or restaurant because of who they are or who they love,” Mar said. “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. Today we can celebrate this big win.”
It should be noted Charlie Craig and David Mullins sought to obtain a wedding cake from the bakery in 2012, which took place before the legalization of same-sex marriage in Colorado in 2014. Although the couple planned to legally wed in Massachusetts, they could have easily requested the cake for non-binding ceremony in their home state.
Christopher Stoll, senior staff attorney for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, also called the decision a win in favor of non-discrimination for gay people. NCLR filed a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of the same-sex couple in the case.
“It is wrong for public businesses to refuse service to customers because of who they are,” Stoll said. “As the court’s decision today recognizes, businesses’ decisions to turn away customers based on irrelevant factors like race, sex, or sexual orientation have a negative effect on the economy and lead to unacceptable economic and social division.”