The Supreme Court decided on Monday against a high-stakes, election-year case about the competing rights of gay and lesbian couples and merchants who refuse to provide services for same-sex weddings.
The justices handed the former owners of Sweet Cakes by Melissa in the Portland, Oregon, area a small victory by throwing out a state court ruling against them and ordering judges to take a new look at their refusal to make a wedding cake for a lesbian couple.
The high court’s brief order directs appellate judges in Oregon to consider last term’s Supreme Court ruling in favor of a baker from Colorado who would not make a cake for a same-sex wedding.
The court ruled that baker Jack Phillips was subjected to anti-religious bias in the Colorado Civil Rights Commission’s determination that he violated state anti-discrimination in refusing to bake the couple’s wedding cake, though Phillips has been sued again.
The Oregon appellate ruling came before the court’s decision in Phillips’ case out of Colorado.
The United States Supreme Court has thrown out a lower court ruling that upheld a judgment against Aaron and Melissa Klein, the former owners of Sweet Cakes by Melissa in the Portland, Oregon, for refusing to make a wedding cake for same-sex couple Rachel Bowman-Cryer and her partner in 2013
The Oregon case had been in Supreme Court limbo for months, sometimes signaling behind-the-scenes negotiation over what to do. There were no noted dissents or other explanation for the delay in Monday’s order.
The case involves bakers Melissa and Aaron Klein, who paid a $135,000 judgment to Rachel Bowman-Cryer and her significant other for declining to create a cake for them in 2013.
The Kleins’ bakery was located in Gresham, Oregon but has since closed.
The dispute began when Bowman-Cryer went to the bakery with her mother in January 2013. They met with Aaron Klein, who asked for the date of the ceremony and the names of the bride and groom.
When told there was no groom, Aaron said he was sorry but the bakery did not make cakes for same-sex weddings. According to documents from the case, Bowman-Cryer and her mother left the shop, but returned a short time later. As the daughter remained in the car, in tears, her mother went in to speak with Aaron.
The mother told Aaron she had once thought like him, but her ‘truth had changed’ when she had two gay children. Aaron responded by quoting Leviticus: ‘You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination.’
The appellate court upheld the judgment against the Kleins, and on Monday the Supreme Court threw that ruling out.
The dispute began when Bowman-Cryer (pictured with her family) went to the bakery with her mother in January 2013. They met with Aaron Klein, who asked for the date of the ceremony and the names of the bride and groom. When told there was no groom, Aaron said he was sorry but the bakery did not make cakes for same-sex weddings. Bowman-Cryer and her partner are shown in a photo shared on social media in 2018
This photo taken on February 5, 2013, shows Melissa Klein, co-owner of the now-closed Sweet Cakes by Melissa in Gresham,Oregon, talking with a customer
Of significant importance related to the order is that it keeps the case off the docket for a term that will end in June 2020 amid the presidential election campaign.
The justices already have agreed to decide in their election-year session whether federal civil rights law protects people from job discrimination because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
The larger issue weighing the rights of LGBT people against the religious objections of merchants remains unresolved.
Another dispute involving a florist from Washington state who would not create flower arrangements for a same-sex wedding is headed back to the Supreme Court.
The high court took the same tack last year in the florist’s case. Taking a second look at the case, the Washington Supreme Court concluded earlier in June that there was no animosity toward religion in court rulings that florist Barronelle Stutzman broke the state’s anti-discrimination laws by refusing on religious grounds to provide flowers for the wedding of a gay couple.
Stutzman owns Arlene’s Flowers in Richland, Washington.
The justices could consider Stutzman’s appeal in the fall.
Meanwhile, Phillips, the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, Colorado, has had another lawsuit brought against him.
Transgender woman Autumn Scardina filed a court documents earlier this month accusing him of refusing to make her gender transition cake.
It comes after the Supreme Court ruled in the baker’s favor last year after he was sued for refusing to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple.
The justices’ decision turned on what the court described as anti-religious bias on the Colorado Civil Rights Commission when it ruled against Phillips.
The justices voted 7-2 that the commission violated Phillips’ rights under the First Amendment.
The same-sex couple at the heart of the case, Charlie Craig and Dave Mullins, complained to the Colorado commission in 2012 after they visited Phillips’ bakery in suburban Denver and the baker quickly told them he would not create a cake for their wedding celebration.
They were married in Massachusetts because same sex marriage was not yet legal in Colorado.
Scardina, the transgender woman who filed the recent lawsuit against the baker, placed the order for a cake celebrating her gender transition on the day the Supreme Court handed down its decision.
She filed a lawsuit after that order was declined but the suit was dismissed.
The lawsuit she filed in early June is her second attempt at suing Phillips for what she says is discrimination and unfair trade practices.
Meanwhile, Phillips, the owner of Masterpiece Cake Shop in Colorado, has had another lawsuit brought against him. Transgender woman Autumn Scardina filed a court documents earlier this month accusing him of refusing to make her gender transition cake. It comes after the Supreme Court ruled in the baker’s favor last year after he was sued for refusing to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple.
‘Masterpiece Cakeshop said before the Supreme Court they would serve any baked good to members of the LGBTQ community. It was just the religious significance of it being a wedding cake,’ her attorney Paula Griesen said.
‘We don’t believe they’ve been honest with the public.’
The lawsuit filed by Scardina claims that Phillips and Masterpiece Cakeshop had confirmed they would happily make the exact same cake requested by her for other customers.
Phillips’ attorneys issued a statement after the lawsuit was filed, saying it rehashed old claims.
‘A new lawsuit has been filed against Masterpiece Cakeshop that appears to largely rehash old claims. The State of Colorado abandoned similar ones just a few months ago.
‘So this latest attack by Scardina looks like yet another desperate attempt to harass cake artist Jack Phillips. And it stumbles over the one detail that matters most: Jack serves everyone; he just cannot express all messages through his custom cakes.’