SALT LAKE CITY — The Supreme Court's wedding-cake clash continues on Tuesday, when justices hear oral arguments in Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission.
The case asks whether a Christian baker should be required to decorate a cake for a same-sex wedding, pitting First Amendment free speech and religious exercise rights against nondiscrimination protections.
Advocates on both sides say the case is about more than a cake. The justices' eventual ruling, expected by the end of June 2018, will set the tone for all future efforts to balance the needs of conservative religious believers and members of the LGBT community.
"In tense times, for this court to recognize and affirm the crucial distinction between an objection to same-sex marriage and the much more offensive (and rare) objection to serving people who are gay or lesbian would be an important step toward a sensible reconciliation of laws," argued a brief filed on behalf of the baker by 34 legal scholars.
"This case is about much more than a wedding cake. It is about the rightful place of LGBT people and their families in the commercial and public sphere," proclaimed a brief from legal scholars supporting the gay couple and the state of Colorado.
The Masterpiece Cakeshop case originated in July 2012, when bakery owner Jack Phillips told Charlie Craig and David Mullins that his religious beliefs prevented him from participating in the celebration of a same-sex relationship by baking a cake for their wedding. The gay couple filed a complaint with the state of Colorado, which prevents discrimination based on sexual orientation in stores and restaurants.
An administrative law judge, the Colorado Civil Rights Commission and then the state's court of appeals ruled against Phillips, arguing that he engaged in unlawful discrimination against Craig and Mullins. He appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which agreed in June to hear the case.
Lawyers for both sides have already outlined their core arguments in briefs filed over the past few months. During Tuesday's oral arguments, justices will ask for clarifications and push attorneys to further explain their positions.
Alliance Defending Freedom, the religious-liberty focused law firm that represents Phillips, claims that cake decoration is a form of protected speech, leaning more heavily on the First Amendment's free expression clause than its guarantee of the free exercise of religion.
"Artists shouldn't be forced to express what the government dictates," said Kristen Waggoner, the senior counsel at the alliance who will argue on behalf of the Christian baker, in a statement. "The Supreme Court has never compelled artistic expression, and doing so here would lead to less civility, diversity and freedom for everyone, no matter their views on marriage."
Forty-six briefs were filed in support of this argument, highlighting the importance of protecting Americans who oppose same-sex marriage for religious reasons, as the Deseret News reported in September.
"American citizens should never be forced to choose between their religious faith and their right to participate in the public square," argued the brief signed by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and other Catholic groups.
The American Civil Liberties Union, which represents Craig and Mullins, rejects the notion that cakes can be speech, asserting that Colorado is right to protect the dignity of members of the LGBT community.
"Nobody disputed that cakes can be artistic, but discriminating against customers has nothing to do with the freedom of speech," said Ria Tabacco Mar, a staff attorney with the ACLU's Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and HIV Project, in a Nov. 29 press call.
Forty-five briefs were filed in support of the gay couple, many of which explored the pain of living in a world in which some businesses won't serve you, as the Deseret News reported last month. They compare the gay couple's legal fight to battles over civil rights for African Americans in the 1960s.
"Across America, LGBT people are subjected to pervasive discrimination. This discrimination often blindsides its targets, hitting without warning during the myriad transactions that make up daily life," explains the brief from Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund.
Although the case is more about free speech than religious exercise, religious groups, including The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, have been active participants, offering faith-based arguments for both sides. The LDS Church co-signed a brief in support of Phillips.