The U.S. Supreme Court appears closely divided in the case of a Christian baker’s refusal to make a wedding cake for a gay couple, with likely pivotal vote Justice Anthony Kennedy posing tough questions, including whether a Colorado civil rights commission that ruled on the issue was unduly biased against religion.
The nine justices heard arguments in Washington on whether certain businesses can refuse service to gay couples if they oppose same-sex marriage on religious grounds.
The case concerns an appeal by Jack Phillips, a baker who runs Masterpiece Cakeshop in the Denver suburb of Lakewood. A state court had ruled that Phillips’s refusal violated a Colorado anti-discrimination law.
Kennedy, a conservative who sometimes sides with the court’s four liberals in major cases, raised concerns about issuing a ruling siding with the baker that would give a green light to discrimination against gay people.
He mentioned the possibility of a baker putting a sign in his window saying he would not make cakes for gay weddings and wondering if that would be “an affront to the gay community.”
But citing comments made by a commissioner on the state civil rights panel that ruled against the baker, Kennedy said there was evidence of “hostility to religion” and questioned whether that panel’s decision could be allowed to stand.
In one of the biggest cases of the conservative-majority court’s nine-month term, the justices must decide whether the baker’s action was constitutionally protected, meaning he can avoid punishment under the Colorado law.
Phillips, represented by the conservative Christian advocacy group Alliance Defending Freedom, contends that law violated his rights to freedom of speech and free exercise of religion under the Constitution’s First Amendment. The Supreme Court arguments focused on his free speech claim, based on the idea that creating a custom cake is a form of free expression.
‘Licence to discriminate’
The couple, David Mullins and Charlie Craig, call the baker’s refusal a simple case of unlawful discrimination based on sexual orientation. Mullins and Craig are represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, which has argued that Phillips’s legal team is advocating for a “licence to discriminate” that could have broad repercussions…