Religious freedom and same-sex marriage: How a wedding cake in Colorado became a cause

By Nicholas Riccardi

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, April 5 2014 12:00 a.m. MDT

In this March 10, 2014 photo, Masterpiece Cakeshop owner Jack Phillips cracks eggs into a cake batter mixer inside his store, in Lakewood, Colo. Phillips is appealing a recent ruling against him in a legal complaint filed with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission by a gay couple he refused to make a wedding cake for, based on his religious beliefs.

Brennan Linsley, Associated Press

LAKEWOOD, Colo. — The encounter at Jack Phillips' Masterpiece Cakeshop lasted less than a minute.

Phillips stepped out from behind the counter in his small, pastry-crammed shop to meet customers Charlie Craig and Dave Mullins. They told him they wanted a cake to celebrate their own marriage.

Phillips replied he couldn't, but that he'd be glad to make one for other occasions, such as birthdays. Left unsaid was how making a gay wedding cake would violate his Christian faith, how he does not make ones for Halloween or bachelor parties, either.

Craig and Mullins left the shop, stunned. Left unsaid was how they viewed themselves as a regular couple, their wedding a private celebration, not a political statement. They simply wanted a no-frills cake.

Crushed, they posted a note about the encounter on Facebook and soon the cake had become a cause, with the sides becoming stand-ins for the culture wars: Phillips was portrayed as the intolerant business owner. The couple became the gay rights activists pushing their agenda, some claimed.

It was one of several incidents that inspired legislation in at least 11 states that would have allowed business owners to cite their religious beliefs in denying service to patrons. Most have died amid a national outcry that they would legalize discrimination.

Along the way, the stories of those caught up in the clash over fast-changing social mores can get lost. Phillips, Craig and Mullins are just three.

Phillips, 57, grew up near the teeming strip mall that houses his bakery in Lakewood, on the edge of Denver's suburban sprawl.

After graduating high school, Phillips went to work at a bakery and found he enjoyed the adrenaline kick and sense of achievement that came from catching doughnuts as they came off the conveyor belt and glazing and sprinkling them.

Nowadays, he loves his work for the way it lets him improve people's lives. "That's," he said, "what Christ does."

Phillips grew up in a religious household, but in his early 20s he felt adrift. He drank and fathered two children with his girlfriend Debbie. As he was driving one day, he felt something extraordinary. "The Holy Spirit convicted me of my sin," he recalled.

Shaken, he told Debbie that night he had found Christ. She said the same had just happened to her. They married and had a third child.

Eventually Phillips started his own shop, serving residents of the new housing developments that were rising nearby. His daughter and 87-year-old mother also work there now.

From the start, he knew there'd be limitations on what he could do. "In everything I do, I think about how people will perceive Christ through me, by what I sell, what I make," Phillips said.

The display cases bulge with cakes of every color. One depicted a trio of crosses on a hill, with the words "He Has Risen."

Phillips takes his cake-making personally. As he prepares a cake for a child's first birthday, Phillips makes a separate cupcake-sized piece to be placed on the kid's high chair, envisioning the moment the tot will dig into it, smearing frosting across his or her face.

For weddings, he interviews the couple to find out how they met, their mutual interests, what color dresses the bridesmaids will wear.

"When I decorate a cake, I feel like I'm part of the party," said Phillips, who had refused previous orders for cakes for gay weddings.

Phillips said he once employed a gay man in his bakery and makes regular birthday cakes for a lesbian couple. His youngest daughter, Lisa Eldfrick, 34, said Phillips never had problems with her and her siblings' various gay friends.

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