In one of the most anticipated decisions of the term, the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 7-2 decision, dodged the key constitutional questions in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, issuing a narrow opinion finding that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission displayed “impermissible hostility” toward a baker’s sincerely held religious beliefs.
Specifically, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of Jack Phillips, a Colorado baker who had refused to make a custom cake for a same-sex couple, claiming that making the cake would violate his religious beliefs. Though many speculated that the Court would issue a sweeping opinion, one way or the other, the court did not decide the larger constitutional issue of whether compelling the baker to design a cake for a same-sex couple would have violated his right to freedom of speech or compromised his religious beliefs. Rather, the Court held that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission failed to give an impartial review of Phillips’ sincerely held religious beliefs. Specifically, the Court reviewed the record below and determined that the Commission openly expressed skepticism and hostility to Phillips’ religious beliefs – something that Constitution prohibits.
Though the full impact of the decision remains to be seen, the Court expressly reaffirmed that the laws and the Constitution can, and in some instances must, protect gay persons and gay couples in the exercise of their civil rights, but noted that religious and philosophical objections to gay marriage are protected views and in some instances protected forms of expression. Thus, “[w]hile it is unexceptional that Colorado law can protect gay persons in acquiring products and services on the same terms and conditions as are offered to other members of the public, the law must be applied in a manner that is neutral toward religion.”
As we previously reported, the legal landscape for LGBT individuals and employees continues to evolve. Employers should monitor these changes in the law to ensure they remain in compliance.