The Colorado Supreme Court has declined to hear an appeal from a bakery found to have violated state civil rights law for refusing to make a cake for a same-sex wedding.
In a list of case announcements on Monday, the Supreme Court denied the writ of certiorari filed by the Lakewood-based Masterpiece Cakeshop and owner Jack Phillips seeking to reverse a decision from the Colorado Civil Rights Commission that determined the bakery violated the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act, which prohibits anti-LGBT discrimination.
Masterpiece Cakeshop filed the appeal before the Colorado Supreme Court after the Colorado Court of Appeals in August affirmed the determination of Colorado Civil Rights Commission, saying state law prohibits the bakery “from picking and choosing customers based on their sexual orientation.”
The bakery and its owner challenged the commission’s decision on the basis that it has right under protections of freedom of religion under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution to refuse a wedding cake to a same-sex couple.
According to the case announcements, the decision to refuse the appeal was made en banc with other decisions announced Monday. Justice Allison Eid, appointed by Democratic Gov. Bill Owens, didn’t participate in the decision.
Chief Justice Nancy Rice and Justice Nathan Coats, appointed by Democrats, indicated on the announcement they would have accepted the case to determine whether Colorado law requires Phillips to create an artistic expression that violates his religious conscience; whether applying the law to force him to create artistic expression violates free speech rights under the federal and state constitutions; and whether applying to force him to create artistic expression violates free exercise rights under the federal and state constitutions.
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 be 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.
The Colorado Civil Rights Commission ordered the bakery to (1) take 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) file quarterly compliance reports for two years describing the remedial measures and document all patrons denied service and the reasons for the denial. No other punishment, such as fines, were included as part of the order.
The case and others like it around the country was fodder for conservatives arguing laws against anti-LGBT discrimination impair religious freedom. Republican presidential candidates like Ted Cruz have drawn attention to these incidents to galvanize support for their campaigns.
Ria Tabacco Mar, a staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union’s LGBT Project who argued the case on behalf of the same-sex couple, hailed the Colorado high court for refusing to hear the appeal.
“The highest court in Colorado today affirmed that no one should be turned away from a public-facing business because of who they are or who they love,” Mar said. “We all have a right to our personal beliefs, but we do not have a right to impose those beliefs on others and harm them. We hope today’s win will serve as a lesson for others that equality and fairness should be our guiding principles and that discrimination has no place at the table, or the bakery as the case may be.”
Nicole Martin, an attorney with the anti-LGBT Alliance Defending Freedom representing Masterpiece Cakeshop, said the decision is disappointing.
“Obviously, we are disappointed with the decision and we’re weighing all legal options rights now,” Martin said.
The refusal to hear the case may not be the last word on the litigation. Martin said there are options, including letting the decision stand, seeking relief from the U.S. Supreme Court in the form of petition for certiorari or making a motion for reconsideration before the Colorado Supreme Court.