This week, the United States Supreme Court announced it will hear a case about whether a business can refuse to sell commercial goods to a gay couple because of the business owner’s religious beliefs.
This ruling could impact all Americans who experience discrimination, not just those who are LGBTQIA.
In 2012, David Mullins and Charlie Craig wanted to order a cake for their upcoming wedding reception. With plans to marry in Massachusetts, because same-sex marriage wasn’t legalized in Colorado until 2014, the couple decided to celebrate with a reception back home. Jack Phillips, owner to Masterpiece Cakeshop, informed the couple that because of his religious views he doesn’t provide cakes for same-sex weddings.
“No one should ever have to walk into a store and wonder if they will be turned away just because of who they are,” Mullins told ACLU Colorado.
There’s no question—this case is about allowing discrimination against LGBTQIA people. But supporters of Masterpiece Cakes are careful to draw attention away from their personal beliefs about LGBTQIA people. Roger Pilon, founding director of the Cato Center for Constitutional Studies, says they support “gay rights” but “draw the line when same-sex couples turn around and use government to force venues against their religious beliefs to participate in same-sex ceremonies, as happens too often today.”
When the argument is framed as Pilon states, we might forget this is about civil rights at all.
In reality, this case is not about religious freedom, which is already enshrined in the Constitution. It is about whether businesses can turn people away because of who they are.
I’ve worried about the erosion of civil rights for LGBTQIA people since Trump has taken office. In February his administration revoked federal guidelines permitting transgender students from using facilities that aligned with their gender identity. This June, Trump paid tribute to the 49 LGBTQIA victims of last year’s Pulse Nightclub massacre, but he failed to issue a proclamation for Pride Month.
As a married lesbian who resides in Massachusetts, where same-sex marriage was legalized in 2004, I know my marriage will be legal in my state even if Obergefell v. Hodges were overturned.
But even my state cannot protect me if the Supreme Court approves a license to discriminate.
In a Trumped-up Supreme Court, there is talk among Christian evangelicals of walking Obergefell v. Hodges back “without disrupting other precedent on marriage,” Rebecca Buckwaler-Poza writes for Pacific Standard.
[The] Supreme Court can significantly undermine LGBT rights even without reversing a single case. Right now, the federal prohibition against sex discrimination doesn’t bar discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity; the Equal Protection Clause affords no specific protections for LGBT people, as it does for members of groups defined by race or nationality. The Court can strip the rights to intimacy and marriage of their meaning, carving away gradually and masking the magnitude of changes by phrasing them in arcane legal terms.
A movement for some time now has been afoot in state legislatures across the country to disenfranchise LGBTQIA Americans. These bills are called Religious Freedom Restoration Acts (RFRA), or religious refusals, and they are backlash against the growing acceptance of LGBTQIA people.
Lawmakers are using religion to justify discrimination against LGBTQIA people.
I hope the Supreme Court will do the right thing this fall and stand against these proposals. Because democracy can only begin when those at the margin can experience what others have long taken for granted.
Photo by Andrew Snow for Believe Out Loud