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Supreme Court sides with baker who turned away gay couple

The Supreme Court sided with Colorado baker Jack Phillips on Monday in a closely watched case pitting gay rights against claims of religious freedom.

[WASHINGTON] The Supreme Court sided with a Colorado baker Monday in a closely watched case pitting gay rights against claims of religious freedom.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority in the 7-2 decision, relied on narrow grounds, saying a state commission had violated the Constitution's protection of religious freedom in ruling against the baker, Jack Phillips, who had refused to create a custom wedding cake for a gay couple.

"The neutral and respectful consideration to which Mr Phillips was entitled was compromised here," Judge Kennedy wrote. "The Civil Rights Commission's treatment of his case has some elements of a clear and impermissible hostility toward the sincere religious beliefs that motivated his objection."

The decision, which turned on the commission's asserted hostility to religion, left open the possibility that other cases raising similar issues could be decided differently.

"The outcome of cases like this in other circumstances must await further elaboration in the courts," Judge Kennedy wrote, "all in the context of recognizing that these disputes must be resolved with tolerance, without undue disrespect to sincere religious beliefs, and without subjecting gay persons to indignities when they seek goods and services in an open market."

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The case arose from a brief encounter in 2012, when David Mullins and Charlie Craig visited Phillips' bakery, Masterpiece Cakeshop, in Lakewood, Colorado. The two men were going to be married in Massachusetts and they were looking for a wedding cake for a reception in Colorado.

Mr Phillips turned them down, saying he would not use his talents to convey a message of support for same-sex marriage at odds with his religious faith. Mr Mullins and Mr Craig said they were humiliated by Mr Phillips' refusal to serve them, and they filed a complaint with Colorado's civil rights commission, saying that Mr Phillips had violated a state law barring discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Mr Mullins and  Mr Craig won before the Colorado civil rights commission and in the state courts.

The Colorado Court of Appeals ruled that Mr Phillips' free speech rights had not been violated, noting that the couple had not discussed the cake's design before Mr Phillips turned them down. The court added that people seeing the cake would not understand Mr Phillips to be making a statement and that he remained free to say what he liked about same-sex marriage in other settings.

Gay rights groups argued that same-sex couples are entitled to equal treatment from businesses open to the public. A ruling for Mr Phillips, they said, would undermine the Supreme Court's 2015 ruling guaranteeing a constitutional right to same-sex marriage, marking the unions of gay couples second-class marriages unworthy of legal protection.

Religious groups responded that the government should not force people to violate their principles in order to make a living. The Supreme Court has long recognized a First Amendment right not to be forced to speak, they said. In 1977, for instance, the court ruled that New Hampshire could not require people to display license plates bearing the state's motto, "Live Free or Die."


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