A California judge’s ruling on Feb. 7 stated Bakersfield bakery owner Cathy Miller was allowed to deny her services to a same-sex couple on the basis of her religious beliefs. Miller was asked to make a cake for the same-sex couple Mireya and Eileen Rodriguez-Del Rio’s wedding and refused to do so, citing her Christian faith as inconsistent with the ceremony. The couple brought the case to court, where Kern County Superior Judge David Lampe ruled that refusing to sell a premade cake to the couple would have been illegal, but that Miller was in no way obligated to create the cake, as that is a protected form of artistic expression. Although the case was approached with admirable nuance, Lampe’s ruling ultimately looks the other away as Miller, a business owner, denies them their rights to purchase wedding cakes freely.
The couple alleged that Miller was violating a state anti-discrimination law, while Miller said that her right to free speech and expression of religion overshadowed such concerns. Judge Lampe ultimately agreed that the act of creating a cake is a protected form of artistic expression, but made it clear that freedom of religion does not give businesses a right to refuse service to groups protected by the Unruh Civil Rights Act. This distinction may seem reasonable, but ultimately falls apart when remembering that creating the cake is a service that Miller provides in her bakery, but refused to provide to a homosexual couple.
Miller’s right to artistic expression will always be protected by the Constitution, but the second she decides to market an act, such as the sale of wedding cakes, it becomes critical that her perceived liberties do not restrict or hinder the liberties of others in any way. Furthermore, Lampe’s rulings seem to neglect important legal precedents for the rights of homosexual couples, such as the incorporation doctrine of the Fourteenth Amendment and Obergefell v. Hodges ruling.
The Fourteenth Amendment guarantees equal protection under the law for all US citizens. Considering that any heterosexual couple has a right to purchase a wedding cake from a baker who might refuse them a cake for any discriminatory reason, it follows that, under the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, a same-sex couple wouldn’t be any less protected.
Additionally, the United States Supreme Court made the strength of these protections incredibly clear in the 2015 landmark decision Obergefell v. Hodges, when it ruled that all normal rights enjoyed by citizens, notably the right to marry, was inalienable from same-sex couples and protected under the law. In the decision, which was centered on the question of marriage, the court made broad progressive strokes in invoking the Fourteenth Amendment, stating that same-sex couples must be afforded equal protections as all other citizens. Evidently, there is clear and well-reinforced legal precedent established to protect the rights of same-sex couples in this country.
Some critics, however, claim that the couple does not have the right to force the baker to make them a cake, and that they can always just go to another baker who would be happy to do so. This line of thought may seem reasonable initially, but it’s important to remember that the American free market which we all treasure is made possible by our fundamental rules and regulations. Our free market thrives because we establish critical consumer and producer protections which includes the right of every consumer to make every legal transaction possible. In our capitalist economic system, the right to purchase a wedding cake from every wedding cake salesman is a fundamental right of all citizens.
Comedian and late-night show host Jimmy Kimmel did an excellent job explaining this dynamic on a segment called “Food-For-Thought” on his show that aired Friday, Feb. 9. In the skit, one customer was denied the restaurant’s signature salad because the chef was uncomfortable making dinner for a lesbian, a Jewish customer isn’t allowed to order the lasagna and steak has to come off the menu because the chef is Hindu. Through this example, Kimmel explains in visceral terms how protecting the right of Miller to refuse to bake cakes for same sex customers is protecting discrimination.
All eyes are now on a similar case that has been taken to the Supreme Court, where Colorado baker Jack Phillips is claiming that his right to free speech and free expression of religion exempt his legal obligation to comply with a state anti-discrimination law, and allow him to refuse to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple. California has already failed its same sex couples with its latest ruling, thus it now falls to the Supreme Court to establish precedent for the protection of same-sex couples nationwide.