On Dec. 5, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. vs. Colorado Civil Rights Commission case, a case about a Colorado bakery that refused to sell a wedding cake to a same-sex couple, citing the owner’s religious beliefs.
As the executive director for One Colorado, the state’s leading advocacy organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer Coloradans and their families, I’m often asked why a case about cake is important. What’s most important to understand about this case is that it isn’t about cake at all. Truly, it’s about whether or not a business owner has a constitutional right to discriminate against someone simply because of who they are.
Protecting people from discrimination is part of our country’s promise of equal treatment under the law for everyone. A ruling allowing discrimination would turn our Constitution’s promise on its head. Nobody should be turned away from a business, denied service, fired from their job or evicted from their home because of who they are.
Granting a business like Masterpiece Cakeshop a right to refuse to serve certain customers based on religious objections could create a sweeping license to discriminate against any group of people. It would have implications far beyond LGBTQ people – including for people of color, members of minority faiths, women and people with disabilities – and would put our state’s long-standing laws against discrimination into jeopardy.
Colorado’s law has protected LGBTQ people from discrimination for nearly a decade, and our nondiscrimination laws ensure that people previously subject to discrimination are free to go about their daily lives without worrying whether they will be turned away from a store. Freedom of religion is one of our most fundamental rights as Americans, and businesses that are open to the public – and their owners – have a right to express themselves and to their religion, but those freedoms don’t give them the right to harm other people, to impose their beliefs on others or to discriminate.
Long ago we decided that businesses that are open to the public should be open to everyone on the same terms, including customers who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer. We live in a diverse state, and many business owners – and their customers – are people of different faiths. Just because a business serves a customer doesn’t mean they share or endorse everything that customer believes in.
The best way to respect our differences is to ensure that all of us are able to go about our day-to-day lives free from discrimination. It only makes sense that the U.S. Supreme Court upholds our state’s law and affirms that businesses that open their doors to the public should be open to everyone on the same terms.
Daniel Ramos, MPA, is executive director of One Colorado and One Colorado Education Fund based in Denver. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.