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    Justice and Desserts

    By Stuart Gaffney and John Lewis

    Cousin Lisa and her fiancé Mike’s engagement party last month was a delightful affair. We’ve known Lisa since the day she was adopted 30 years ago, and she and Mike make a great couple. One of the joys of our participation in the marriage equality movement is that we now perform weddings for other couples. When Lisa and Mike slipped us a handwritten note at the party asking, “Will you and the love of your life help me marry mine?” we, of course, replied with an enthusiastic, “Yes!” And we marveled at the “save the date” cookies Lisa and Mike bought at a local bakery that were topped with an icing calendar showing their upcoming wedding day in July 2018.

    As we admired the cookies, however, we found that our thoughts soon turned to another couple, Charlie Craig and David Mullins, who were engaged a few years ago and had gone to a bakery in suburban Denver, Colorado, with Charlie’s mom to order a wedding cake for their upcoming nuptials. The bakery told Charlie and David point blank that it would not bake them a wedding cake because they were gay. As reported in The Denver Post, the bakery owner simply told Charlie and David simply: “Sorry guys, I don’t make cakes for same-sex weddings.” They did not even discuss the design of the cake, and according to the bakery owner, the entire “conversation was just about 20 seconds long.”

    Charlie and David were stunned. Colorado law prohibits businesses from discriminating against customers on the basis of disability, race, creed, color, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, or ancestry. The bakery’s denying Charlie and David service because of their sexual orientation was a clear violation of the law. The Colorado Civil Rights Commission and the Colorado Court of Appeals agreed, and the Colorado Supreme Court saw no need to review the case. But earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court took the case to decide whether the bakery could claim rights to freedom of speech and religion that could permit it to ignore the state’s anti-discrimination law when it comes to LGBT couples like Charlie and David. The Court will hear oral argument in the case on December 5, 2017, and will likely rule by the end of June 2018.

    It then occurred to us that if the Supreme Court permits the Colorado bakery to discriminate, the local bakery that baked Lisa and Mike’s engagement cookies could conceivably refuse to provide services to us and other LGBT couples it if were our engagement party. We soon realized the bakery might also be able to refuse to make the same cookies or a wedding cake for Lisa and Mike themselves. Lisa is a person of color, and a bakery that wanted to discriminate against her on that basis could assert that the laws prohibiting race discrimination did not apply to them because of freedom of religion or speech. And further, Lisa was born overseas and adopted when she was a few weeks old, so the bakery could try to ignore the laws prohibiting national origin and ancestry discrimination.

    It doesn’t stop there. Lisa and Mike are an interracial couple, and the bakery could try to deny them service on that ground as well. After all, if a business owner’s personal religious beliefs allow the business to ignore anti-discrimination laws, still more injustice is possible. Consider that the trial court judge in the U.S. Supreme Court case that struck down laws banning interracial marriage, Loving v. Virginia, stated:  “Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents … . The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.”

    If the Supreme Court rules against LGBT people like Charlie and David, the decision could have implications for many businesses, and not just bakeries. The Denver Post reports that the bakery owner has often been asked, “What would Jesus do?” His response, “Well, you know, in my opinion—Jesus was a carpenter. I don’t think he would have made a bed for their wedding … .”

    Putting aside the fact that the emphasis of Jesus’ teachings is love and that he never addressed homosexuality, much less marriage for LGBT people, the bakery owner’s answer illuminates how sweeping a negative decision from the U.S. Supreme Court could be. It could open the door not only for businesses to refuse to sell beds or, for that matter, anything else to LGBT couples, but also for restaurants to turn away LGBT diners. Myriad other businesses could refuse to serve LGBT people, and all based on claims that doing so violated the owners’ religious beliefs.

    The marriage equality movement is about our common humanity, our common need for dignity and respect, and our common inclination to love. Discrimination demeans and stigmatizes those people who are its objects. But it ultimately harms those who practice it, too, because it deprives them and those around them of the opportunity to understand and appreciate diversity and to recognize our common humanity. 

    An unusually large number of high profile mass tragedies have taken place in our county over the last few months. Amidst the human suffering, stories emerge of people instinctively and spontaneously helping strangers—from rescuing them from flood waters to covering their bodies to protect them from bullets to helping them escape approaching flames—and all before their minds had a chance to categorize the stranger and to evaluate whether or not they wanted to help them. 

    Our laws against discrimination are a vehicle for people to act everyday with those highest intentions—for jobs, housing, and businesses to be open to everyone, regardless of who they are or whom they love. We look to the U.S. Supreme Court in June 2018 to affirm our laws against discrimination—just in time to celebrate at Lisa and Mike’s wedding.

    John Lewis and Stuart Gaffney, together for over three decades, were plaintiffs in the California case for equal marriage rights decided by the California Supreme Court in 2008. Their leadership in the grassroots organization Marriage Equality USA contributed in 2015 to making same-sex marriage legal nationwide.