MiamiHerald / There is no constitutional right to refuse service to a person based on his race or sex or religion or sexual orientation. This seems obvious and well established, yet that is precisely the issue in an important case to be argued in the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday : Does a business have the right to violate state law and refuse to serve gays and lesbians based on the business owner’s beliefs?

Masterpiece Cakeshop Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission involves a bakery in Colorado that refused to bake a cake for a gay couple’s wedding celebration. Charlie Craig and David Mullins got married in Massachusetts and wanted to celebrate their wedding where they lived in Colorado. They went to a local bakery, Masterpiece Cakeshop, and sought to purchase a wedding cake. The owner, Jack Phillips, refused to bake the cake, saying that gay marriage violated his religious beliefs.

Colorado law, like that in California and many other states, has a public accommodations law that prohibits business establishments from discriminating based on race or sex or religion or sexual orientation. The Colorado Civil Rights Commission found that Phillips violated Colorado’s statute because he would bake a cake for opposite-sex couples celebrating a wedding, but not for same-sex couples. The Colorado Court of Appeals affirmed the commission’s ruling against Masterpiece Cakeshop and the U.S. Supreme Court granted review.

This should be a simple case for the Supreme Court: The government has a compelling interest in stopping discrimination. All anti-discrimination laws interfere with freedom to discriminate; there is an inherent tension between liberty and equality. But our society has made the choice for more than a half century that preventing discrimination is more important than upholding the freedom to discriminate.


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