The debate over whether religious shop owners can be compelled to provide services for weddings of same-sex couples continues. One such owner, Jack Phillips, of Lakewood Colorado, finds himself, still, at the heart of that debate.
A new story from The New York Times tells Phillips’ story, against the backdrop of the national discussion that began as courts across the country started lifting state bans on gay marriage.
Two years ago Phillips declined to make a cake for a gay couple’s celebration because, he said, according to his Christian religion, marriage should only be between a man and a woman.
Gay marriage was not allowed in Colorado at the time of Phillips’ refusal. The couple married in Massachusetts but was holding a celebration in the Denver area.
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The couple sued Phillips and his Masterpiece Cake Shop, saying they had been discriminated against. The Colorado Civil Rights Commission agreed with the couple and said Phillips had to bake cakes for anyone who wanted one. Fox News reported the commission required Phillips’ employees to take sensitivity training. He was also told he must submit quarterly reports, for two years, proving that he has not denied service to a customer.
The Associated Press reported in July that Phillips appealed that ruling to the state courts.
In the meantime, Phillips has stopped doing wedding cakes altogether. It’s the only way he can comply with the commission’s ruling without compromising his beliefs, he says.
“I do like doing the wedding cakes,” he said in The New York Times article. “But I don’t like having the government tell me which ones I can make and which ones I can’t make, and trying to control that part of my life.”
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Phillips’ is not alone. There are reportedly about a half-dozen similar cases across the country in which merchants — like florists, bakers and photographers — have declined to provide services to a gay wedding and the couple has sued.
Evan Wolfson, the president of Freedom to Marry, says the law doesn’t allow the merchants to make that choice.
“It’s a clear, well-settled proposition that businesses who open the door to the public must serve the public,” Wolfson said. “We don’t want Americans walking into businesses and being turned away because of who they are — that’s what nondiscrimination principles mean.”
But Alan Sears, the president of the Alliance Defending Freedom, says the debate is really about religious freedom, not about discrimination.
“Anyone who would suggest this is not about freedom of religion doesn’t know or understand what religious liberty is about, which is the freedom to do what your conscience directs,” he said.
He said he would also support a gay baker’s right to refuse to make a cake with an anti-gay message.
As the debate continues, state legislatures have begun taking up the issue. Michigan, North Carolina and South Carolina are all considering legislation that would protect merchants who choose to deny services based on religious beliefs.