In 2012, Colorado baker Jack Phillips violated Colorado’s Anti-Discrimination Act by refusing to create a cake for a homosexual couple. Phillips has said he won’t create cakes for same-sex couples because it would violate his religious beliefs. Now, the case is going before the U.S. Supreme Court and Donald Trump’s Justice Department is siding with the baker. The case will test the limits of religious freedom and determine whether equal protection under the law is more important than freedom of religion.
This is only the latest in a series of attacks on LGBT individuals by the Trump Administration. After seeming like one of the more moderate Republicans on this issue during the primaries, even at one point saying transgender people should be able to use the bathroom they identify with, Trump has reversed his course. He announced twice that LGBT people will not be allowed to serve in the military, although this is now on hold. Additionally, the Justice Department has filed a legal brief arguing the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. These and other actions show that while Trump, on occasion, may say he supports the LGBT community, he really couldn’t care less.
This specific court case is particularly worrisome, as a Supreme Court that sides with Philips would essentially enable government sanctioned discrimination against LGBT individuals. I don't think that such a ruling is a likely outcome, but with ultra-conservative justices like Gorsuch and Thomas on the court, anything is possible.
There are a couple of strong legal arguments against the actions of the baker. The main one is that freedom of religion does not give you the power to discriminate against people, even if you have certain deeply held beliefs. For example, you could belong to a religion and honestly believe that interracial marriages are a sin in the eyes of God. This, of course, would in no way be allowed under current law. If the baker had refused to bake a cake for an interracial couple, this would be a pretty cut and dry case. However, the rationale behind refusing to bake a cake for a gay couple and refusing to bake a cake for an interracial couple is literally the exact same thing.
The only difference is that interracial marriage has become pretty normalized but homosexual marriage is still new. That means people feel like they can still get away with discriminating against homosexuals, and they’ll keep doing it as long as one of our major parties continues to show hostility towards the LGBT community.
While not as strong of a legal argument, I would also argue that unless the baker in question is consistent with his religion about what he views as sinful behavior, he has no grounds to claim religious freedom is what is at stake here. What I mean is this. The Bible forbids things like getting tattoos and eating certain seafood. I highly doubt that the baker refuses to provide services for individuals who engage in this behavior, because he’d soon go out of business. But, if his justification for refusing to bake a cake for a gay couple is that the Bible teaches him it’s a sin, and he bakes cakes for those who engage in other actions the Bible deems sinful, then he’s just picking and choosing what sins he cares about. Clearly, the Bible claiming that something is a sin is not enough justification for him on its own, and yet that is his entire case against this gay couple!
Freedom of religion is an important right in our country. Most people of faith in this country are decent people that embody virtues of love, kindness, and respect. But there are those who will attempt to use their beliefs to justify hatred and bigotry. This biased treatment should not be allowed in our society and it should certainly not be encouraged by our government. Every person, regardless of their race, gender, sexual orientation, beliefs, or personal choices deserves to be guaranteed equal treatment and equal rights. The Trump Administration would do well to remember that and decide which side of history they really want to be on.
Jacob Kowalski is opinion editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.