A Complicated Question

December 4, 2017

This week the Supreme Court is going to hear a case I have mixed feelings about. A gay couple is suing a baker for refusing to make a wedding cake. The baker claims he can refuse this couple on religious grounds because he and his church don’t support same-sex marriages.


It seems to me that baking, especially something as elaborate as a wedding cake, is an art. As an artist myself, I can’t imagine the government telling me I must use my talent to create something against my will. In fact, I’ve turned down creative projects for a variety of reasons. Fortunately, I’ve never been sued.


Sexual orientation is big news these days, but what if a skinhead walked into this bakery and requested a cake in the shape of a swastika? What if someone in the baker’s family had been gunned down and a customer requested a cake in the shape of an assault rifle? Would these cases make their way to the Supreme Court? I think not.


I reject the baker’s claim that by creating a cake he’s endorsing an abhorrent lifestyle. I was once asked by an art director to create a portrait of Adolf Hitler, and I never considered my illustration to be an endorsement of Hitler or Nazism. Sometimes, most times, a cake is just a cake. So, should the Supreme Court order this cake designer to make a cake for a gay couple?


As I ponder this question, I can’t help wondering why this couple is so insistent on this baker making their cake. Why would anyone want their cake made by someone so antagonistic? There must be other bakers who would jump at the chance—wedding cakes cost a pretty penny. Would you want to eat something created by someone who found you disgusting?


It’s entirely possible the Supreme Court will allow the baker to reject this commission on religious grounds. If so, a bigger question needs to be answered—what constitutes a religion? Is Scientology a religion? The Church of Elvis? Can I start my own religion? A U.S. congressman recently claimed that Catholicism was a cult, not a religion. Will the Supreme Court then be forced to decide exactly what constitutes a religion?


I believe the government needs to treat all people equally. Prejudices, which we all have, must be fought. I understand why some establishments, for reasons of hygiene and liability, refuse service to people who are shirtless or barefoot, but I can’t accept people being turned away because of race, religion or sexual orientation.


So that’s my dilemma. I don’t think people should be forced to accept jobs that run contrary to their convictions, but I don’t think it fair to refuse people just because you’re a bigot.


What do you think? How should the Supreme Court rule?  





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You should be able to refuse service if the party in question is causing trouble or threatening you. Just because you don't like them sets a bad precedent. Over the weekend I was at Family Dollar and bought a Jesus action figure from the clearance bin. The cashier was a Muslim woman. If she'd been like this baker I'd have had to either put the item back or wait in the other, longer line, which just seems silly, but that's the precedent this would set.
By: PT Dilloway on December 4, 2017
I don't find this at all a confusing question. Legally justifying discrimination against this gay couple would open the door to discrimination against religious minorities and atheists. Muslim? Against my religious beliefs. Get out. Atheist? Against my religious beliefs. Get out. Why this bakery? I wouldn't want them to bake anything for me either, but that's my CHOICE. If you live in a tiny town with only one bakery, what then? Tough. You're gay. No cake for you. This does not threaten anyone's religious beliefs. What if a religion shuns people with disabilities? And there are religions that do. Sorry. You're disabled. No cake for you. If you don't want to serve the public, don't open a business that serves the public. And don't try to disguise your ignorance and prejudice behind your religious beliefs.
By: Mitchell is Moving on December 4, 2017
While an employee might not have a choice, I think a business owner should. I know the lengths my church went to in crafting a statement that would prevent them from being sued for not marrying a gay couple. Remember back in the day there was a sign in many businesses that said 'We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone'?
By: Alex J. Cavanaugh on December 4, 2017
Be nice. Bake the cake. It's so simple.
By: Joanne Noragon on December 4, 2017
well....this is a complicated situation....quite frankly in today's antagonistic and devisive environment I think BOTH parties are in the wrong...the baker for even caring who is getting the cake or why and the gay couple looking for a fight should not even go before the court- as Alex brought up businesses used to be able to refuse service to anyone.And why for heavens sake would they want the angry baker to make their cake? Jiminey christmas....what's the matter with people these days anyhow?
By: Kathe W. on December 4, 2017
There is that old cardboard sign in the store that says "We have the right to refuse service to anyone." Is that legal. I do not know. Just asking.
By: tabor on December 4, 2017
I'm in full agreement with you. I wonder how much money this couple has (or if they have a probono attorney that wants the PR) to take it to this level. Art is something that, when dictated, so no longer art - in my opinion.
By: Robyn Engel on December 4, 2017
PS Then again, I read the first two comments here - especially Mitchell's - it's complicated, isn't it? I understand the other side. I'm in favor of marriage equality...
By: Robyn Engel on December 4, 2017
First, the easy part: I believe the current SCOTUS will side with the baker, considering their current 5-4 conservative alignment. As I recall they agreed with the privately owned Hobby Lobby, saying they did not have to pay for insurance that covered contraceptives as it was against their religious beliefs. The key was the family personally owned the company. A publicly held company couldn't have done the same just because the CEO objected. Now the hard part: SHOULD the baker be allowed to refuse? Tricky....I personally believe a private business should be able to set their own rules, including turning a customer away FOR CAUSE, such as being drunk, or disruptive, or threatening, etc. But I have a hard time seeing race, creed, color, sexual orientation and such as CAUSE. It's a fine line. And as you point out, what qualifies as a "religion"? I'm sure it has been legally addressed before, but I can't remember the court finding.
By: scott park on December 4, 2017
I am leaning hard towards Mitchell's point. Sure would hate to see businesses setting the rules as to who they will serve. This is a path we once tread and I pray we never do again.
By: Arkansas Patti on December 4, 2017
I think if you're open to serve the public, then you have to serve the public, in all its various beliefs and habits (unless, as someone pointed out, it poses an immediate threat to you or other customers). Even if you're an artist. If I want my portrait painted, and you paint portraits for a living, I don't think you should be able to refuse me because I'm ugly, or black, or have a disability, or because I'm gay.
By: Tom Sightings on December 4, 2017
This couple does not want this baker making their cake, they just want to win a point and make it impossible for other tradespeople to refuse services at gay weddings. In an open, free market, you should be able to refuse service, and people should them be able to boycott you as a bigot and let you end up out of business because no one wants to do business with you. It seems to me that that's how it should work.
By: messymimi on December 4, 2017
I don't think this issue should get close to the supreme court. You've asked why this couple didn't find somebody else to make the cake. Cooler heads have to prevail.If it goes to the supreme court as you have pointed out all kinds of problems may result and the can of worms would be open.
By: red on December 4, 2017
Whenever a business refuses to serve a particular "group," it opens the door to refusing to serve other groups. Don't serve gay people. Don't serve Jews. Don't serve African-Americans. Don't serve Latinos. (I do not include hate groups in my list.) The baker should have just made the damn cake. On the other hand, why DO they want that particular baker? Is it possible that they live in an area where not many bakeries make wedding cakes? Since the bakery in my neighborhood closed, it's a lot more difficult around here for people to get a nice wedding cake. If not being able to get a cake from that particular baker creates a hardship for the couple, then hell yeah, go after the jerk. Go after the jerk anyway because he has no legitimate reason to refuse to serve the customers. Before you know it, some restaurant owners will put up signs that say "No Jews. No Coloreds. No Dogs." Love, Janie
By: Janie Junebug on December 4, 2017
You've opened a dialogue on a tricky and touchy issue. There are sound arguments all around. You asked two questions which help lead us through this-why this baker? In answering this one I think we plumb to the social agenda underpinning-this is about more than asking someone to bake a cake--it is about the right to ask and the right to refuse to take a job and that bridges us to the second great question you pose-is this considered a religious freedom issue-for the couple and/or for the baker? However is it also a civil rights question-the illegality of denying service to someone. My personal view is there are ways to refuse a job without offending the potential client. That goes to human relations-but I wonder why anyone in that business would refuse to take a job. I shop at a store not because of political or ideological reasons, but because of quality of product and or price. When I order a meal at a restaurant I don't care about the religion, politics or musical tastes of the chef, food assistants or the wait person. Should the chef refuse to cook my steak because I'm a Presbyterian or a little green man from space, etc? So, in a circular manner we are back to an original thought-this is about more than ordering a cake?
By: Tom Cochrun on December 4, 2017
I'd be all for a business that's offering good and services to the public to be required to make this cake, except then I think about your point, Stephen - what if someone wanted my business to bake a cake in the shape of a swastika, or even less troubling to some people but also offensive to me, with crude or vulgar language or pictures on it? I don't know if there are already laws that protect a business from doing something the owners find offensive, even if it would not be offensive to other business owners. So I am looking forward to seeing what better minds than mine decide in this case.
By: jenny_o on December 4, 2017
These are difficult questions. I'm with you. If someone took offense at something I was trying to buy, I'd take my money elsewhere. Let me know what . you finally decided here :)
By: Rick Watson on December 4, 2017
There's not a simple solution, but if it works one way, it has to work the other. Like baking a swastika cake. I don't have the answer, but I agree with messymimi in the comment up above.
By: Val on December 4, 2017
I imagine the couple got someone else to make their cake unless they are waiting to get married until this is settled. should a business that serves the public be able to discriminate? I think no for all the reasons given above. it just opens the door to all kinds of discrimination. as an artist myself I have had to turn away work because I couldn't get it done in the time frame so there are legitimate reasons for refusing a 'job' but discrimination/bigotry isn't one of them. the baker's assertion that same sex marriage is against his religion has nothing to do with baking a freaking cake, it just means that he is not supposed to indulge in the supposed sinful behavior. selling a product to someone you don't approve of does not constitute approval of that person or the way they live. a person's religious beliefs are supposed to guide their life and should not be imposed on others.
By: Ellen Abbott on December 5, 2017
I assume the bakery didn't make Wedding cakes for any couple that were living together or had a sex before they were married too, as the Bible says that's a sin too.
By: LL Cool Joe on December 5, 2017
Baking a cake isn't art just because it's pretty. Art is something that someone creates that cannot be mass produced and inspires emotions like conflict, discussion, and thought. Art can make someone feel very strongly about whatever it is that is depicted, both negatively and positively. The only goal for a cake is to make it 1) delicious and 2) pretty. This means that you need to stay within lines/molds and follow ingredients to the letter. Technically, it could be done by a robot. I reject anyone that says cake is art simply because you hold the frosting squeeze thing a certain way. That's like saying "furniture is art." Hell no it is not.
By: Michael Offutt on December 7, 2017
Perhaps a ruling to educate both sides is in order. Walk in one another's shoes. How many of our mother's would smack us and tell us to grow up and get along? Pride, ignorance and all other excuses boggles the mind. No wonder the world is as messed up as it is.
By: Daniel LaFrance on December 7, 2017
Professional bakers create works of art by sheer design and decor. Fine carpentry are also artists by coming up with a design through to completion. I would go so far as to say speakers and writers are both artists in their own discipline. We may not like the end result and that's your right.
By: Daniel LaFrance on December 7, 2017
I would ask the question of whether there could be some other underlining issues that created this mess. Did the gay couple know the baker at all or through other means previous to asking for a cake and previous to the baker rejecting their request? Maybe the baker is offended in some other way and the gay couple wants to stick it to him by suing? What is the history behind their relationship? Do they know mutual people and something happened along the way that created this to escalate to the extent it did? I don't know any of the details surrounding this incident, but it sure seems there may be other factors at play besides the simple fact a gay couple asked for a cake and the baker refused. Just thoughts!
By: STL Fan on December 7, 2017
I believe the couple knew this baker would refuse to make a cake celebrating a gay wedding and they picked this chance to force the issue. I agree it is a complicated issue. Freedom to practice religion should not force you to do things that you believe are against your religion. Jewish delicatessen will not sell a ham sandwich, does a christian baker have to make a cake for a gay wedding? Did they refuse to make a wedding cake or did they refuse to make the cake represent a gay couple. If they refused to have two male figures on the cake, or have it say "Happy Gay Marriage" I think that reasonable. If they refused to make any cake that represented any wedding just because the couple was gay then that would be discrimination and should not be allowed. The real shame is that to force an issue and prove a point, a couple (the bakers) has been bankrupted and their life turned upside down, they clearly feel strongly about this issue or they would have just baked a damn cake.
By: cranky on December 18, 2017
I thought this was a simple issue, until you brought up all the other angles involved in this. You are right, it's a complicated issue. But I, personally, believe if you start a business that serves the public then you should serve the public. I'm sure there are pharmacists whose religion says that a morning-after pill is the same as abortion. Do they have the right to refuse to dispense this pill? Do they have the right to refuse to dispense this pill if they are the only pharmacy in town and the person who needs it is a 14-year-old rape victim? Can a Jewish waiter refuse to bring me a cheeseburger? Lots to think about.
By: Pixel Peeper on December 24, 2017

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