Supreme Court will decide whether a bakery must sell wedding cake to a same-sex couple as required by Colorado public accommodations law

On June 26, 2017, the Supreme Court took certiorari in this case under the name, Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colo. Civil Rights Comm'n. (No. 16-111).

The Colorado Court of Appeals has affirmed the Civil Rights Division's that a bakery must sell wedding cakes to same-sex couples if they would ordinarily do so to male-female couples. Mullins v. Masterpiece, 2015 Colo. App. LEXIS 121, 2015 COA 115 (Colo. App. 2015). State law prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in public accommodations, and neither the state statute itself nor the constitution entitles the providers of goods and services to engage in proscribed discrimination for religious reasons.

The court rejected the bakery's contention that it was acting on the basis of an opposition to same-sex marriage rather than an intent to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. The court held that it did not matter that the bakery would sell baked goods other than a wedding cake to the couple since the refusal to sell the wedding cake itself was based on the couple's sexual orientation. The court agreed with the prior ruling in Elane Photography, LLC v. Willock, 309 P.3d 53, (N.M. 2013), explaining that "conduct cannot be divorced from status… when the conduct is so closely correlated with the status that it is engaged in exclusively or predominantly by persons who have that particular status. We conclude that the act of same-sex marriage constitutes such conduct because it is “engaged in exclusively or predominantly” by gays, lesbians, and bisexuals.…But for their sexual orientation, Craig and Mullins would not have sought to enter into a same-sex marriage, and but for their intent to do so, Masterpiece would not have denied them its services."

The court held that the nondiscrimination law did compel the for-profit bakery to state a message celebrating same-sex marriage since the message is that of the customer and the store is merely being required to provide wedding cakes on a nondiscriminatory basis. Nor does the law violate first amendment religious freedom rights after Emp’t Div., Dep’t of Human Res. v. Smith, 494 U.S. 872, 877 (1990) since anti-discrimination laws are valid and neutral laws of general applicability and are justified rationally by the legitimate government interest in proscribing discrimination in access to the marketplace. Nor does the law require the bakery to affirm or support any particular religious beliefs. The Court refused to interpret the state constitution's religious freedom protections more broadly that those of the U.S. Constitution.