More than gay wedding cake: Why Supreme Court case is about dignity, not dessert  | Opinion

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Allowing businesses to have a “No Wedding Cakes for Gays” or “No Gays Allowed” policy is no different than the “Whites Only” banners that littered American storefronts decades ago.

Is all this about gay rights?  Or is it about religious rights and free speech? Whatever the answer, it’s not about cake.

Over time, America has embraced the value of diverse community and individual freedoms.  We abolished slavery. We granted the right to vote to all people regardless of color or gender.  We passed the 14th Amendment to guarantee equal treatment of all citizens by the government. Less than a decade ago, the Pew Research Center reported that a majority of Americans opposed gay marriage.

Now, a majority support gay rights.

Simply put, our national values continue to evolve. As these changes occur, conflict arises.

In the Masterpiece Cakeshop case pending before the U.S. Supreme Court, a private business owner is asserting the right to refuse service to a gay couple, arguing that providing wedding-related services to this couple would violate his right to free speech because his religion opposes gay marriage.  He argues that his cakes are “art” and thus “creative expressions” entitled to First Amendment protections.

But what message do we send if we legitimize discrimination against the LGBTQ community?

Refusing to recognize the civil rights of this community equates with saying that these individuals are second-class, and can be treated accordingly.

>> Read the counterpoint: Religious baker who refused to make a wedding cake for gay couple deserves protection whether you agree with him or not  

We have debated similar issues before.

In 1964, a restaurant owner argued that he should not have to serve a black customer in his restaurant because his religion opposed the intermingling of the races. The Supreme Court called the argument “patently frivolous.” Now there is little argument that a person’s religion can be used to justify racial discrimination.

But what happens if we carve out exceptions to allow business owners to discriminate on the basis of the First Amendment? Could a photographer refuse to provide a family portrait to an interracial couple? Could a website developer deny business to an all-women owned company because the photographer’s religion teaches that a woman’s place is in the home?  Although the country was horrified when Matthew Shepard, a gay college student, was tortured and tied to a fence to die — we seem to now be hesitating about recognizing these full rights to the LGBT community.

The business owner in this case has strong religious convictions that marriage should be only between a man and a woman.

The gay couple, Charlie Craig and David Mullins, have never derided his belief nor doubted its sincerity.  But since I first began representing the couple, I have seen the facts of that day get twisted to suggest this case is about “free speech.”

I get it. Lawyers do that. But facts matter.

On the day that Craig and Mullins walked into that bakery and asked for a wedding cake, there was no discussion about what kind of cake they wanted. The fact is that the owner would not sell this couple anything — regardless of its creative expression — to celebrate their wedding and had also refused to sell cupcakes to a different same-sex couple for their wedding. In this case, the owner’s position was simply “no.”

Many have asked why they didn’t just go to another bakery. But is convenience really the issue? Does anyone believe that it would have been inconvenient for Rosa Parks to move back on the bus?

The Washington Post’s George Will claimed that Craig and Mullins were “bullying” the baker and that they acted “abominably” by demanding their rights in this case.

Really?  Would he have described Rosa Parks as a bully for demanding her rights?

It is not disrespectful to business owners to require them to serve people with whom they disagree. In our pluralist society, we often have to sit side by side on “the bus” with people with whom we do not agree.  Allowing businesses to have a “No Wedding Cakes for Gays” or “No Gays Allowed” policy is no different than the “Whites Only” banners that littered American storefronts decades ago.

This is not about cake. This case is about whether a business owner can refuse to serve people because of who they are – or who they love. It is about the right of our citizens to be free from discrimination when they seek services from businesses that are open to the public.

Craig and Mullins are not bullies. They are our family members and neighbors. What this is about is the most basic of human rights – the right to be treated with dignity.

Paula Greisen is a co-operating attorney with the ACLU and one of the attorneys representing the same-sex couple at the center of this case.

For more on this issue, join Paula and other experts for a panel discussion, “For Debate: Can a Baker Refuse to Create a Cake for a Same-Sex Wedding?” at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the National Constitution Center. To register, visit www.constitutioncenter.org/debate or call 215-409-6700.