SCOTUS: Colorado Baker Can Object To Making Cake For Same-Sex Union

HIGH STAKES The U.S. Supreme Court could decide some blockbuster cases today as the term nears its end. AP file

"When the Colorado Civil Rights Commission considered this case, it did not do so with the religious neutrality that the Constitution requires", Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote for the majority.

As he had in oral arguments in the case, Kennedy noted comments from Colorado commissioners that he thought denigrated Phillips' faith, implying that, as Kennedy put it, "religious beliefs can not legitimately be carried into the public sphere or commercial domain, implying that religious beliefs and persons are less than fully welcome in Colorado's business community".

"We read this decision as a reaffirmation of the court's longstanding commitment to civil rights protections and the reality that the states have the power to protect everyone in America from discrimination, including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people", said James Esseks, director of the ACLU LGBT & HIV Project.

Washington's attorney general, Bob Ferguson, said the high court's decision in the Colorado case "may lead to additional procedural steps", but it won't affect the ultimate outcome in the Arlene's Flowers case.

This is a legitimate basis, to be sure, for deciding the case (though Justices Ginsburg and Sotomayor disagreed that such discrimination against the religious was showin this particular case). Phillips' lawyers said his cakes are an art form - a "temporary sculpture" - and being forced to create one to commemorate a gay wedding would violate his constitutional rights to free speech and expression and free exercise of religion.

The decision does not state that florists, photographers, or other services can now refuse to work with gay couples.

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Of the 50 states, 21 including Colorado have anti-discrimination laws protecting gay people. The government can not treat a person's religious beliefs with hostility, he wrote, yet that's what the Commission did here, and this is what led to Kagan's concurrence. However later cases raising these or similar concerns are resolved in the future, for these reasons the rulings of the Commission and of the state court that enforced the Commission's order must be invalidated. State officials joined the case against Phillips, and a Colorado appeals court ruled against the bakery.

The Court's statement said that the conclusion in favour of Mr Phillips rests on evidence showing that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission was hostile towards religion when compared to the cases of three other bakers.

The disputes have developed since the Supreme Court created same-sex marriage in the United States a few years ago. But the critical question of when Phillips' right to exercise his religion can be limited had to be determined, Kennedy emphasized, in a proceeding that was not tainted by hostility to religion.

The opinion also noted the uneven application of the Commission's rulings, as it had decided in favor of other individuals with similar objections, while ruling against Phillips.

The court, however, did not issue a definitive ruling on the circumstances under which people can seek exemptions from anti-discrimination laws based on their religious views - the larger issue the case raised.

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