Supreme Court wedding cake case asks whether baking is protected speech

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in a case Tuesday that asks whether a baker in Colorado can legally ignore his state’s nondiscrimination law by refusing, on religious grounds, to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple.

The high court’s decision, expected by late June, could send shockwaves through the wedding vendor and gay communities by either boosting or shutting down the claims of several other florists, photographers, bakers, and wedding venue providers who say they should be able to turn away gay customers due to their personal religious beliefs. Just 21 states, including Colorado, prohibit businesses from discriminating against gay people — in all other states, it’s legal to do so.

The case, Masterpiece Cakeshop vs. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, marks the first time the Supreme Court will consider a person’s religious objections to same-sex marriage since the court found in 2015 that a right to marriage extended to gay people. That decision struck down bans on gay marriage in 13 states.

“This case is not really about a cake,” starts one amicus brief by a gay rights advocacy group siding with the same-sex couple.

That might be the only thing on which both sides agree.

Attorneys for the baker, Jack Phillips — as well as the U.S. government and conservative religious groups — argue that Phillips’s cake is much more than food: It’s art and thus protected free speech the government may not infringe upon.

Masterpiece Cakeshop owner Jack Phillips at his store in 2014. (Photo: Brennan Linsley/AP)

A cake is “not an ordinary baked good; its function is more communicative and artistic than utilitarian,” the Justice Department writes in its brief in the case. The baker himself argues that his case is about the “expressive freedom of all who create art or other speech for a living.”

A brief by a group of nearly 100 Republican U.S. lawmakers, including Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, referenced the reality TV show “Cake Wrecks” and described Prince William and Kate Middleton’s elaborate 2012 wedding cake to argue that “asking an artist to especially design a cake to capture the appropriate emotions of a wedding day is more than a request for a food with flour, eggs, and sugar.” Instead, the cake is a “message” of endorsement for a same-sex union, something Phillips says he cannot do in good conscience because of his Christian religion.

Meanwhile, gay rights groups, the ACLU, and attorneys for the…

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