The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday ruled in favor of a Colorado bakery owner who refused to make a wedding cake for a gay couple, in a decision that says the state’s civil rights commission violated the baker’s constitutional rights by treating his religious beliefs with hostility.
But legal scholars at Indiana University say the 7-2 ruling sidestepped the larger issue at the heart of the case: whether a business can invoke religious objections to refuse service to gay people. Instead, it focused narrowly on the baker’s claim that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission violated his rights under the First Amendment.
“The way the opinion is written, it seemed like the court went out of its way to avoid saying anything anybody could seize to infer whether the baker or the couple would have won if not for religious animus,” said Steve Sanders, associate professor at IU’s Maurer School of Law.
Justice Anthony Kennedy, in his majority opinion and during oral arguments in December, took issue with comments made by members of the Colorado commission.
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 Jack Phillips’ shop in suburban Denver and he refused their request for a custom-made cake. Colorado law prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and the commission concluded that Phillips’ refusal violated the law.
Phillips fought the decision, which was upheld in Colorado state courts.