If baker makes it back to the Supreme Court, we have forebodings

Saturday, Aug. 18, 2018 4:25 AM
Masterpiece Cakeshop owner Jack Phillips decorates a cake inside his store in Lakewood, Colo. The Supreme Court is setting aside a Colorado court ruling against a baker who wouldn’Äôt make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley, File)

Jack Phillips is back in the news. He’s the baker from Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood who refused to make a wedding cake for a gay couple, sparking a case that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, where Phillips narrowly prevailed.

Now Phillips is in federal court again, suing Colorado this week over religious discrimination. While this might seem at first blush like just another way for Phillips to espouse his discriminatory views, it’s not that simple.

On June 26, 2017, the Court agreed to hear the first case, which was widely reported. That same day, Autumn Scardina, a Denver lawyer, called Masterpiece and asked them to make her a cake with a pink interior and blue icing to celebrate her anniversary of transitioning from male to female.

The shop told her, unsurprisingly, that it didn’t make cakes celebrating gender changes.

“I was stunned,” Scardina said in a complaint she filed with the state Civil Rights Commission.

Late this June, the commission found probable cause that Phillips broke the law when his shop refused Scardina’s request, and ordered Phillips into mediation with her.

In his lawsuit, Phillips is asking for permanent injunctions against Colorado from enforcing its anti-discrimination laws against him, plus $100,000 in punitive damages.

Gov. John Hickenlooper, who is named as a defendant, says he expects this case, too, will go to the Supreme Court. And that could be a problem.

We would gladly make a cake for anyone’s wedding if we knew how to bake. A gay wedding? We would be delighted. A transgender birthday? We are there, with presents.

We admire the courage it must take for someone like Scardina to live her true life. Greater acceptance can not come soon enough for us, and generally, in the long view, we think we’re moving in the right direction. In the meantime, we treasure our gay and trans family, friends and co-workers and we would fight for their right to be themselves any day of the week.

If every baker in Colorado happily made cakes for gay weddings and trans anniversaries, that would be lovely. Perhaps someday it will be so.

Yet we are not convinced that Scardina was stunned by the response she got the day she called Masterpiece Cakeshop. By then, why would anyone, and least of all a lawyer, think Phillips would agree to make that cake?

And if Scardina was not truly stunned, what was she trying to do?

We suppose she shares our goals. She wants greater acceptance of all, and so, ultimately, does the state, Hickenlooper and the Civil Rights Commission.

But we are not sure a return to the Supreme Court for Phillips is going to do that. Suppose he got what he was seeking, which is not inconceivable. This one man would be exempt from the state’s anti-discrimination laws. But laws shouldn’t have exceptions. It is like fairness: If you believe some, but not all, people should be treated fairly, you have not grasped the basic principle.

The Civil Rights Commission did just what it was supposed to do. And as a consequence, we fear the Court could gut it.

We would much prefer that no one patronized the discriminatory baker in Lakewood.

That seems more realistic to us than trying to compel this stubborn man to bake on demand, which could bring with it serious consequences for all the decent people who still see cake as something for anyone’s happy occasion.