In a 7–2 decision this morning, the United States Supreme Court ruled in favor of a Colorado baker who refused to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple. The closely watched case concerned whether “sincerely held religious beliefs” can permit businesses to withhold goods and services to protected groups including LGBTQ people. In this particular instance, the Court said yes.
The ruling hewed very narrowly to the specific circumstances of the case, including how Colorado authorities had weighed the baker’s legal claims. Justice Anthony Kennedy–who also wrote the majority opinion in the 2015 Supreme Court decision that legalized same-sex marriage–emphasized that “These disputes must be resolved with tolerance, without undue disrespect to sincere religious beliefs, and without subjecting gay persons to indignities when they seek goods and services in an open market.”
This language heartened civil rights groups, including the ACLU, which wrote in a statement that today’s ruling “reaffirmed the core principle that businesses open to the public must be open to all . . . The court did not accept arguments that would have turned back the clock on equality by making our basic civil rights protections unenforceable, but reversed this case based on concerns specific to the facts here.” And in a press call this afternoon an ACLU representative speculated that were a second gay couple to walk into Masterpiece Cakeshop, the business wouldn’t have the right to turn them away under the ruling.
Still, the decision may encourage business owners and employees to test the extent of their rights for faith-based conduct in the marketplace, all but ensuring that new cases balancing religious freedom and equal protection issues will continue to wind through the court system in the months ahead.