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MORE INFORMATION: Baker in spotlight after court win in gay wedding cake case

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By Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Supreme Court ruled for a Colorado baker who wouldn't make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple in a limited decision that leaves for another day the larger issue of whether a business can invoke religious objections to refuse service to gay and lesbian people.

The justices' decision Monday turned on what the court described as anti-religious bias on the Colorado Civil Rights Commission when it ruled against baker Jack Phillips. The justices voted 7-2 that the commission violated Phillips' rights under the First Amendment.

The case had been eagerly anticipated as, variously, a potentially strong statement about the rights of LGBT people or the court's first ruling carving out exceptions to an anti-discrimination law. In the end, the decision was modest enough to attract the votes of liberal and conservative justices on a subject that had the potential for sharp division.

Justice Anthony Kennedy said in his majority opinion that the larger issue "must await further elaboration" in the courts. Appeals in similar cases are pending, including one at the Supreme Court from a florist who didn't want to provide flowers for a same-sex wedding.

The disputes, Kennedy wrote, "must be resolved with tolerance, without undue disrespect to sincere religious beliefs, and without subjecting gay persons to indignities when they seek goods and services in an open market."

The same-sex couple at the heart of the case, Charlie Craig and Dave Mullins, complained to the Colorado commission in 2012 after they visited Phillips' Masterpiece Cakeshop in suburban Denver and the baker quickly told them he would not create a cake for their wedding celebration. They were married in Massachusetts because same sex marriage was not yet legal in Colorado.

Colorado law prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and the commission concluded that Phillips' refusal violated the law, despite Phillips' argument that he is opposed to same-sex marriage on religious grounds. Colorado state courts upheld the determination.

But when the justices heard arguments in December, Kennedy was plainly bothered by comments by a commission member that the justice said disparaged religion. The commissioner seemed "neither tolerant nor respectful of Mr. Phillips' religious beliefs," Kennedy said in December.

That same sentiment coursed through his opinion Monday. "The commission's hostility was inconsistent with the First Amendment's guarantee that our laws be applied in a manner that is neutral toward religion," he wrote.

Liberal justices Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan joined the conservative justices in the outcome. Kagan wrote separately to emphasize the limited ruling.

Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor dissented. "There is much in the court's opinion with which I agree," Ginsburg wrote of Kennedy's repeated references to protecting the rights of gay people. "I strongly disagree, however, with the court's conclusion that Craig and Mullins should lose this case."

The Trump administration intervened in the case on Phillips' behalf, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions praised the decision. "The First Amendment prohibits governments from discriminating against citizens on the basis of religious beliefs. The Supreme Court rightly concluded that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission failed to show tolerance and respect for Mr. Phillips' religious beliefs," Sessions said.

President Donald Trump was unusually vague about the decision, simply tweeting, "Big Supreme Court ruling for Baker just out!" - more than 11 hours later.

Kristen Waggoner, the Alliance Defending Freedom senior counsel who argued Phillips' case, said the court was right to condemn the commission's open antagonism toward Phillips' religious beliefs about marriage.

Waggoner said Phillips is willing to sell ready-made products to anyone who enters his store. But, "he simply declines to express messages or celebrate events that violate his deeply held beliefs," she said.

Phillips was at his shop Monday morning, where he was busy answering the phone and getting congratulations from his supporters in person, including his pastor. One woman brought him balloons and others hugged him.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which represented the couple in its legal fight, said it was pleased the court did not endorse a broad religion-based exemption from anti-discrimination laws.

"We read this decision as a reaffirmation of the court's longstanding commitment to civil rights protections and the reality that the states have the power to protect everyone in America from discrimination, including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people," said James Esseks, director of the ACLU LGBT & HIV Project.

Waggoner and Esseks disagreed about the ruling's effect on Phillips' wedding cake business. Waggoner said her client can resume his refusal to make cakes for same-sex marriages without fear of a new legal fight. But Esseks said that if another same-sex couple were to ask Phillips for a wedding cake, "I see no reason in this opinion that Masterpiece Cakeshop is free to turn them away."

Craig, one of the plaintiffs, said Monday night he will continue to fight against discrimination. He told supporters during a rally at the Colorado Capitol that he and his partner brought the case "because no one should have to face the shame, embarrassment and humiliation of being told 'we don't serve your kind here.'"

Several other legal disputes are pending over wedding services, similar to the Phillips case. In addition to florists, video producers and graphic artists are among business owners who say they oppose same-sex marriage on religious grounds and don't want to participate in same-sex weddings.

Barronelle Stutzman, a florist in Richland, Washington, has appealed a state Supreme Court ruling that found she violated state law for refusing to provide the wedding flowers for two men who were about to be married.

The justices could decide what to do with that appeal by the end of June.

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Associated Press writers P. Solomon Banda, Nicholas Riccardi and Thomas Peipert contributed to this report from Denver.

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LAKEWOOD, Colo. (AP) - Jack Phillips seems like an unlikely U.S. Supreme Court plaintiff.

The 62-year-old has quietly run his Masterpiece Cakeshop from a strip mall in suburban Denver for a quarter of a century.

That changed, however, when a gay couple asked him to make their wedding cake in 2012 and Phillips said no, citing his religious beliefs.

Now, after winning a partial victory Monday from the high court, Phillips has become a beacon for conservatives who feared a shift toward gay rights could make them an oppressed minority.

"I'm profoundly thankful that the court saw the injustice that the government inflicted on me," Phillips said in a statement issued through his lawyers. "This is a great day for our family, our shop, and for people of all faiths who should not fear government hostility or unjust punishment. Today's decision makes clear that tolerance is a two-way street."

The justices cited anti-religious bias on the part of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, saying it was unfairly dismissive of Phillips' religious beliefs.

But the court stayed out of the thornier issue of whether people can avoid providing services to same-sex weddings because of religious beliefs

Even so, people streamed into Phillips' cake shop after the ruling came down, embracing him as his phone rang repeatedly with congratulations from people who view him as their champion.

Supporter Ann Sewell, who brought a clutch of congratulatory balloons to the bakery, compared Phillips' bravery to people opposed to the Vietnam War.

"If you could be a conscientious objector and not fight in a war then you should be able to hold to your convictions in something as simple as this when it is not hurting anyone," Sewell said. "It might offend someone, but that's life."

The case stems from a brief meeting in 2012 between Phillips and Charlie Craig and Dave Mullins. The couple had just married in Massachusetts and wanted a cake for a celebration in the suburb of Lakewood.

Phillips told the men he'd be happy to sell them other products, but he didn't make wedding cakes for gay marriages.

The newlyweds filed a complaint with the state civil rights commission, which forbid Phillips from refusing service again.

Phillips fought back, appealing that ruling all the way to the Supreme Court. To avoid future liability, he stopped making any wedding cakes - a 40 percent drop in business - and cut his bakery staff of 10 by six people, according to his attorney Kristen Waggoner.

His case is one of several in the legal pipeline in which professionals - video producers, florists, graphic artists - declined to provide services for same-sex weddings. Phillips' case was the first to make it to the high court.

That landed the normally private baker in the spotlight. In November, just before arguments in his case were heard in Washington, Phillips headlined a rally at Colorado Christian University, not far from his bakery.

He appeared awkward on stage, laughing nervously and his voice rattling as he thanked those attending.

"I love using cakes as a canvas," Phillips continued. "One of the favorite parts of my job is making wedding cakes because it allows me to bring my love of art - painting, sculpting, airbrushing - to create something beautiful and unique to mark the beginning of something held sacred by many."

At the conclusion of his five-minute address, the crowd swarmed around Phillips, touched him and prayed.

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WASHINGTON (AP) -- Supreme Court rules narrowly for Colorado baker who wouldn't make same-sex wedding cake.
 

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