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Colorado cake maker asks Supreme Court to provide a religious liberty right to refuse gay couple

David G. Savage, Tribune Washington Bureau on

Published in News & Features

LAKEWOOD, Colo. -- "Sorry, guys, I don't make cakes for same-sex weddings."

With that blunt comment, Jack Phillips, a baker who designs custom wedding cakes, sent two men out the door and set off a legal battle between religious liberty and gay rights that comes before the U.S. Supreme Court this fall.

The Trump administration last week sided with Phillips and argued that decorating a wedding cake is a type of "expressive conduct," similar to burning a flag or marching in a parade. If so, they say, the Constitution's free speech protection gives the baker, a devout Christian, the right to refuse to participate in the marriage celebration of two men.

But Colorado has barred Phillips from making any more wedding cakes because he refuses to abide by its civil rights law. Since 2008, it has required public businesses to serve all customers equally and without regard to their sexual orientation. The state, allied with the American Civil Liberties Union, says this case is about discrimination, not the religious liberty of a shop owner.

Phillips' shop, Masterpiece Cakeshop, is full of brightly colored cookies, cupcakes and birthday cakes. These days, it attracts customers from afar who make a special trip to show their support. "Our prayers are with you," one woman said as she ordered cookies recently.

Phillips, 61, recalled growing up in Lakewood when it was mostly trees, fields and two-lane roads. His bake shop prospered as the city grew into a busy, commercial suburb of Denver. By 2012, he had 10 employees. Then and now, Phillips says, he does not refuse to serve customers for being gay.

 

"I will serve anyone who comes in," he said. "And I think I can make friends with them."

But to Charlie Craig and Dave Mullins, Masterpiece was far from friendly when they stopped by in the summer of 2012.

Craig, 37, grew up in a small town in Wyoming and came to Denver to enjoy the freedom of the big city. He met Mullins through a mutual friend, and they dated for several years. They were planning to be married in Provincetown, Mass. -- where same-sex marriages had been legal since 2003 -- and then return to Denver for a celebration with their family and friends. A reception planner recommended Masterpiece.

"We went in with a bunch of ideas," said Mullins, 33. "But (Phillips) came in, asked who the cake was for and then he said he wouldn't make a cake for us. We were shocked and mortified and got up and left."

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