Masterpiece Cakeshop Ruling Provides an Opportunity

The Supreme Court on Monday overturned a ruling stating that a baker who refused to make a cake for a same-sex wedding in Colorado violated the law. It was a 7-2 decision in the case titled Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission.

Although it was a 7-2 decision, the ruling (which you can read in full here) was somewhat narrow in how it addressed the larger issue of religious freedom vs. nondiscrimination laws. Early analysis/reaction is expecting that there are still many instances where religious business owners will be found to have violated nondiscrimination laws created to protect LGBTQ individuals.

So this isn’t a broad “victory” for those who wish to use religious beliefs to deny service to or association with gay/lesbian citizens. Yet it is still a strong ruling that states religious beliefs and convictions against gay marriage are legitimate and protected as free speech.

As Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the decision:

“The laws and the Constitution can, and in some instances must, protect gay persons and gay couples in the exercise of their civil rights, but religious and philosophical objections to gay marriage are protected views and i some instances protected forms of expression.”

The rubber will have to meet the road eventually as to where the line is actually drawn between religious conviction and nondiscrimination, but that’s a debate the Supreme Court will have to take on in a future case.

Where the Court did draw the line in this case was against the hostility the Colorado Commission expressed toward Jack Phillips, the owner of the cakeshop, and his beliefs. It’s the expression of this hostility that presents the greatest opportunity for all sides going forward.

Disagreement is Not Discrimination

The above phrase has been used a lot in the debate over religious beliefs and nondiscrimination laws, but it’s time for more people to take it to heart.

For religious freedom advocates, we must recognize that there is true discrimination that has taken place in the name of religious freedom. We can’t broadly deny access or service in the market to someone based on their orientation (or their gender, race, nationality, religion, etc.). It’s time to embody Christ more than ever, particularly in the way he associated with and welcomed and loved those who were most deemed “unworthy” or “outcast” by church leaders.

It’s also time to humbly initiate conversation with those on the other side of the issue. This is not a time to gloat or claim the high ground. It should pain us to face these kinds of decisions that Jack Phillips faced, and lead us to push for reconciliation and also to eradicate true discrimination where it does exist.

On the other side, LGBTQ activists and nondiscrimination advocates need to understand that there are deeply held religious beliefs from sincere, caring people that will sometimes lead them to not participate in or even oppose an activity or a cause. It’s possible for someone to do that while still loving and respecting the dignity of the other person. Respect for a person and opposition to their actions can coexist.

There’s really no way this division will start to diminish and replaced by cooperation until the hostility and suspicion can be overcome on both sides. A ruling such as this provides an opportunity for everyone to realize their worst fears won’t necessarily come to fruition, that it’s possible to find a middle way through this.

It’s the perfect opportunity to work toward compromise and mutual respect.


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