DENVER — A suburban Denver baker who would not make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple cannot cite his Christian beliefs in refusing them service because it would lead to discrimination, the Colorado Court of Appeals ruled Thursday.
The three-judge panel said in a 66-page ruling that Colorado's anti-discrimination law does not prevent baker Jack Phillips from believing what he wants but that if he wants his business open to the public, he is prohibited "from picking and choosing customers based on their sexual orientation."
The decision is the latest victory for gay couples, who have won similar cases in other states. Gay rights supporters and religious freedom advocates have passionately debated whether individuals can cite their beliefs as a basis for declining to participate in a same-sex wedding ceremony.
And it is bound to get more heated after the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage nationwide. That decision makes the Colorado case "all the more urgent and all the more critical," said Nicolle Martin, one of Phillips' attorneys.
His attorneys previously said they would consider appealing up to the nation's high court, noting that more cases are likely to arise in which businesses' religious convictions clash with gay rights. But any appeal first would go to the Colorado Supreme Court.
"Jack simply exercised the long-cherished American freedom to decline to use his artistic talents to promote a message with which he disagrees," said another of Phillips' attorneys, Jeremy Tedesco, with the Arizona-based Alliance Defending Freedom. "The court is wrong to deny Jack his fundamental freedoms."
Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, declined to make a cake for Charlie Craig and David Mullins in 2012. They were married in Massachusetts but planned to celebrate in Colorado.
Phillips has been facing fines if he kept refusing to make wedding cakes for gay couples, so his attorneys have said he stopped making them altogether.
The baker has maintained that he has no problem serving gay people at his store but says that making a wedding cake for a same-sex wedding would violate his religious views.
"Today is a proud day for equality and for upholding the law," said Ria Mar, an attorney who argued the case for the American Civil Liberties Union. "In America, no one should be turned away from a shop or restaurant because of who they are or who they love."
In recent cases elsewhere, a bakery in the Portland, Oregon, area that declined to make a wedding cake for a gay couple two years ago was ordered to pay $135,000 in damages in July.
Two years ago, the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled that a photographer who wouldn't take pictures of a gay couple's 2006 commitment ceremony violated the state's anti-discrimination law.
And in Washington state, a florist has been fighting a lawsuit filed after she refused to provide services for a gay wedding in 2013.
Phillips' case started at Colorado's Civil Rights Commission, where Craig and Mullins filed their complaint. In December 2013, a judge for the commission ruled that Phillips discriminated against the couple and ordered him to change his store policy against making cakes for gay weddings or face fines.
Phillips went to the Colorado Court of Appeals, which backed the commission's ruling and rejected the baker's argument that his free-speech rights were violated because the government was forcing him to do something with which he disagrees.
The court said Colorado's anti-discrimination law does not force Phillips to support a particular view, but "merely prohibits Masterpiece from discriminating against potential customers on account of their sexual orientation."
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