The Supreme Court ruled Monday in favor of a Christian baker in Colorado who refused to bake a custom wedding cake for a same-sex couple.
Writing the opinion for the 7–2 majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy found that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission infringed on baker Jack Phillips’s rights in ruling that he violated the Colorado anti-discrimination law that bars merchants from refusing service based on race, sex, marital status, or sexual orientation.
Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor cast the lone dissenting votes, splitting from their liberal colleagues Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan, who voted with the majority.
Phillips’s attorneys argued that he would never refuse general service to a gay person, but stipulated that his religious beliefs prevented him from creating custom cakes for same-sex weddings. Phillips, who owns the Masterpiece Cakeshop, claimed throughout the five-year legal battle that he was defending the rights of all “creative artists” to determine the nature of the content they produce.
The ruling does not broadly empower merchants to deny service based on sexual orientation but rather narrowly addresses the question of whether the Colorado Civil Rights Commission demonstrated hostility toward Phillips’s religious views in ruling against him.
In defending the majority opinion, Kennedy cited Colorado state law, which at the time held that merchants were entitled to decline to print specific messages demeaning gay people and other groups.
The ruling represents a widely anticipated follow up the Supreme Court’s 2015 decision to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide in Obergefell v. Hodges. Kennedy seemed to signal his future support for religious conservatives in authoring that landmark opinion.
“It must be emphasized that religions, and those who adhere to religious doctrines, may continue to advocate with utmost, sincere conviction that, by divine precepts, same-sex marriage should not be condoned,” Kennedy wrote at the time.