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Gay wedding cake row reaches US Supreme Court

When it becomes the centre of a gripping Supreme Court drama about the right of a baker to refuse to make one for a gay couple’s wedding.

And so it came to be that America’s most powerful court is currently hearing arguments, in front of a packed room, about a heap of butter, sugar, eggs and flour. With fancy icing.

Jack Phillips runs Colorado's Masterpiece Cakeshop
Jack Phillips runs Colorado’s Masterpiece Cakeshop

It all started in Colorado back in 2012, when baker Jack Phillips said that although he would sell other cakes to Charlie Craig and David Mullins, he could not in good conscience make a wedding cake for them because to do so would violate his religious beliefs that marriage should only be between a man and a woman.

State courts found that Mr Phillips had broken Colorado’s anti-discrimination laws.

But he was determined to fight the case, and so took it all the way to the Supreme Court.

Charlie Craig and his spouse Dave Mullins brought the case to case
Charlie Craig and his spouse Dave Mullins brought the case to court

Mr Mullins and Mr Craig continue to argue that they have been discriminated against.

But lawyers for Mr Phillips say that baking an elaborate, sculptural wedding cake amounts to artistic expression or ‘speech’, covered by the First Amendment.

They say he should not have to give up his constitutional freedoms because of his profession.

The Trump administration and many other conservative campaigners support this position.

But during oral arguments on Tuesday, some justices worried that making an exception for Mr Phillips would allow other businesses to discriminate against same sex couples.

Protesters gathered outside the court
Protesters have gathered outside the court

Could florists, photographers, planners and musicians also refuse to provide services using the same argument?

Could bakers across the country hang up signs that read: “We do not bake cakes for gay weddings”?

But others suggested that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission seemed “neither tolerant nor respectful of Mr Phillips’ religious beliefs” when it found he had broken the law.

The nine US Supreme Court justices. Bottom row (left to right) Ruth Bader Ginsburg,  Anthony M Kennedy,  Chief Justice John Roberts, Clarence Thomas, Stephen Breyer. Back row (left to right) Elena Kagan, Samuel Alito, Sonia Sotomayor and Neil Gorsuch
The nine US Supreme Court justices

And new justice and Colorado native Neil Gorsuch questioned the couple’s lawyer on whether a baker making a red cross-shaped cake to celebrate relief efforts would also have to make the same cake for the Ku Klux Klan.

The lawyer replied no, because anti-discrimination laws in Colorado cover race, sex and sexual orientation, but do not protect KKK participants.

The case of the cake is the kind that could shape American society for years to come, a closely fought and felt argument on the limits of both constitutional rights and the more modern laws overlaying them, sometimes rather uncomfortably.

A decision is expected in the summer.

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