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U.S. Supreme Court will hear gay wedding cake case on 5 December

U.S. Supreme Court will hear gay wedding cake case on 5 December

Bakery's rainbow cake

The U.S. Supreme Court has set 5 December as the day it will hear oral arguments on whether a Denver baker has a First Amendment right to refuse to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple on the grounds it goes against his religious beliefs.

The court announced on Friday (6 October) that it would hear the case, Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission.

The case is viewed as a major test of religious freedom laws vs civil rights of LGBTI people.

It will be the first LGBTI rights case the nation’s highest court has heard since 2015 when it ruled in favor of marriage equality across the United States. It will also be the first case the court has heard since conservative judge Neil Gorsuch joined the court in April.

The case began in July 2012 when Jack Phillips, the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, Colorado, a suburb of Denver, declined to make a wedding cake for Charlie Craig and David Mullins.

Since same-sex weddings were not legal in Colorado at that time, the couple planned to wed in Massachusetts, then return to Colorado for a celebration with friends and family. They requested a rainbow-layered cake.

Jack Phillips said his faith kept him from accepting the order, saying he believes marriage is between a man and a woman. However, he did offer to make and sell them other baked goods.

Legal action

The couple filed a complaint with the state’s Civil Rights Division. Colorado law bans bias based on sexual orientation.

In 2013, the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Colorado filed a lawsuit on behalf of the couple, alleging the bakery discriminated on the basis of sexual orientation under Colorado state law.

An administrative judge ruled in favor of the couple and the Colorado Court of Appeals upheld that decision in 2015.

The Colorado Supreme Court declined to review the case, thereby upholding the lower court ruling.

However in June, the U.S. Supreme Court granted a writ of certiorari (review) and agreed to hear the case. The case will be one of two the court hears oral arguments on 5 December.

Department of Justice

The U.S. Justice Department has already weighed in on the case, siding with the Colorado baker.

In a friend-of-the-court brief, the Justice Department, under the guidance of U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, said that baking a wedding cake is inherently an act of expression, so refusing to bake for same-sex couples is protected under the First Amendment, which protects freedom of speech.

Since issuing that friend-of-the-court brief, Sessions also released guidelines granting a wide berth to religious freedom.

On 6 October, Sessions issued a memo instructing the Justice Department and other federal agencies not to prosecute religious freedom cases. Essentially, if someone says something goes against their religious beliefs, the government will view it as a valid claim and let the matter drop.