Supreme Court Poised to Deal Another Blow to LGBTQ Rights

Masterpiece Cakeshop at the Supreme Court

Following the 90 minute oral arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court today in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case, observers almost unanimously voiced concerns that the high court appears ready to side against LGBTQ public accommodation protections in lieu of granting a ‘religious liberty’ exception to business owners. Such a ruling would have a devastating effect on state and local level anti-discrimination laws meant to protect LGBTQ people from differential treatment.

The Washington Post noted:

Kennedy, who wrote the court’s 5 to 4 decision in 2015 saying gay couples have a constitutional right to marry, speculated about what might happen if a decision in baker Jack C. Phillips’s favor prompted requests for bakers across the country to refuse to make cakes for same-sex couples. Would the federal government feel vindicated? Kennedy asked.

On the flip side, just moments later, Kennedy sharply questioned Colorado Solicitor General Frederick R. Yarger. The justice seemed offended by a comment made during the deliberations of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission when one commissioner said: “And to me it is one of the most despicable pieces of rhetoric that people can use to — to use their religion to hurt others.”

At one point, Kennedy and some conservative justices raised the possibility that the proceedings against baker Jack C. Phillips had been infected by bias.

Arguing that because the Colorado courts did not recognize Jack Phillips’ inherent right as a Christian to tell same-sex couples he would not serve them in his business open to the public, Kennedy appeared ready to side with the bakery and against LGBTQ people’s civil rights.

Noting the importance of the case, Justice Stephen Breyer commented during oral arguments that the high court should be careful as they do not want to “undermine every single civil rights law.”

But a decision allowing one exception to public accommodation law on the grounds of ‘religious liberty’ would be a Pandora’s box – something the left-leaning justices of the court pointed out.

They questioned who else in the business world could consider their product “art” protected by the First Amendment, offering the very slippery slope conservative organizations like Alliance Defending Freedom would indubitably seize upon in other cases they’re handing similar to the Masterpiece Cakeshop case.

Here are some of the more worrying reactions from court observers:

While nothing is certain following Supreme Court oral arguments (look at how Hobby Lobby turned out), things don’t bode well for LGBTQ people seeking equal access to public accommodations. In fact – as one justice aptly pointed out – we may soon be a nation where businesses can openly display signs informing the public they refuse to serve LGBTQ people.

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Tim Peacock is the Managing Editor and founder of Peacock Panache and has worked as a civil rights advocate for over twenty years. During that time he’s worn several hats including leading on campus LGBT advocacy in the University of Missouri campus system, interning with the Colorado Civil Rights Division, and volunteering at advocacy organizations. You can learn more about him at his personal website.

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