As the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a case that could legalize anti-gay discrimination across America, dueling rallies took place on the steps outside, a war of words and beliefs culminating in a sea of opposing signs, costumes, and hopes for the outcome of a case that has consumed both LGBTQ and mainstream news.
That case is Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. At issue is the legality of custom cake designer Jack Phillips refusal to bake a cake for the wedding of Charlie Craig and David Mullins, citing his personal beliefs opposing homosexuality as justification.
LGBTQ groups are demanding that the court uphold non-discrimination laws prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Many of those outside the Supreme Court today pointed out that the case goes far beyond Craig and Mullins’ ability to purchase a cake.
“The cake is just a vehicle to get the case before the court,” said Paula Prettyman, of Fairfax County, Va., who attended the rally along with a group of members of the LGBTQ-affirming organization People of Faith for Equality in Virginia. “[This] is about a cake maker, but the ruling, like all Supreme Court rulings, is going to be used in cases like this one. So if anybody ever in the future wants to use their First Amendment right to discriminate against someone else for any reason, they’ll be able to do that if this decision goes against us.”
Victoria Kirby York, deputy director for advocacy and action at the National LGBTQ Task Force, who appeared at the rally with her 3-month-old daughter in tow, believes the case is an attempt by anti-equality forces to gut and undermine the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the very linchpin of the Civil Rights Movement.
“We want to make sure that people know that this case does not only have implications for LGBTQ people, but all protected classes,” Kirby York said. “If there is a precedent that says people can discriminate against anyone as long as they cite their religion or moral convictions, we’re opening the floodgates for people of color to be discriminated against as well.”
Caitlin Rooney, a D.C. resident originally from Vancouver, Canada, came to the rally dressed as the U.S. Constitution, hoping to symbolize the conflict that the case poses between First Amendment rights and laws that protect people from discrimination.
“The cake does not convey a message, the cake is just a product you’re selling to someone,” she said. “If you sell a product to one person, you should sell it to everyone.”
A few hundred yards away, supporters of Phillips, including representatives from several prominent anti-LGBTQ organizations, held their rally to support religious exemptions from nondiscrimination laws.
Clad in blue buttons that read “We’ve got your back, Jack,” speakers argued that creating cakes should be considered a protected form of free speech. Many said that a majority of business owners will serve all people, regardless of their sexual orientation, but can’t be asked to promote messages that run counter to their religious beliefs.
One of those speakers was Blaine Adamson, owner of Hands On Originals, a Christian T-shirt printing shop in Lexington, Ky. In a case similar to what occurred at Masterpiece Cakeshop, Adamson has been mired in court battles after he was sued for refusing to print T-shirts for the 2012 Lexington Pride Festival.
Although two courts have ruled in Adamson’s favor, finding he had not violated Lexington’s Fairness Ordinance, the Lexington Fayette Urban Human Rights Commission has since appealed those decisions to the Kentucky Supreme Court.
Adamson maintains he has always acted in good faith, even referring customers to other print shops when he objects to printing T-shirts. That includes when he was asked to make shirts with an image of Jesus on a bucket of chicken, or when another customer asked him to make a shirt reading “Homosexuality is sin.”
“I’ve always worked with and served people who identify as gay,” Adamson told the crowd. “For example, we’ve printed materials for a local band whose lead singer is a lesbian. But I can’t print messages that go against my faith, no matter who asks me to print it.”
U.S. Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) also spoke at the pro-Phillips rally, arguing that Americans should be able to hold divergent views on issues such as sexual morality or marriage equality and still be able to tolerate the beliefs of those with whom they disagree.
He echoed statements by conservative interest groups such as the Alliance Defending Freedom, the Family Research Council, and Concerned Women for America, mainly that refusals by business owners are not motivated based on a person’s identity, but their personal religious beliefs, which they have a right to under the Constitution.
“The free exercise of religion doesn’t just mean you can have a religion, it means you can have one and live that faith out,” Lankford said.
But Craig and Mullins, the couple at the heart of the case, said that they have heard countless stories, particularly members of the LGBTQ community, about the discrimination they’ve experienced, which reinforced their decision to move forward with their lawsuit.
Appearing with Craig’s mother, Debra Munn — who was present when Phillips first turned away the couple in 2012 — the couple made brief remarks on the steps of the Supreme Court following the conclusion of oral arguments.
“This entire time, Dave and I have just been asking to be treated equally in public,” Craig told the rally of LGBTQ groups and allies. “We’re two regular guys who were wronged, and we decided to stand up for ourselves. Dave and I do not have an agenda. We do, though, have hopes and dreams. We want our friends and families to have meaningful lives. We want to grow old together…. And most importantly, we want everyone to be treated equally.”
“This isn’t about a cake. This has never been about a cake. And this isn’t about weddings. It has never been about weddings. This is about freedom,” Mullins added. “Freedom for LGBT people to live full lives in public and not in constant fear that they will be denied basic service in businesses, fired from their jobs, or lose their homes just for who they are.
“To this day, [our] experience at Masterpiece Cakeshop is a persistent memory. The memory of the mortification and humiliation doesn’t just go away. It’s always there the next time we walk into a business, wondering if the same thing will happen, and if maybe we should just pretend not to be gay or married, just to be safe.
“That is why we’re here today: to stand up and show everyone and ourselves that our freedom is worth fighting for. That only when we stand up and say, ‘No, I will not be pushed into the shadows,’ can we fully claim the promise of equality that is our birthright as Americans.”
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