By Reg Calcagno
On Monday, June 4 at 10 a.m., I found myself in a familiar situation, hitting refresh on the SCOTUS blog, awaiting news from the Supreme Court on the Masterpiece Cakeshop case. Two boxes on the steps meant that there was a good chance it was coming out. Then, the verdict flashed on the screen, the court had reversed a lower ruling and ruled in favor of the bakery that had refused to sell a wedding cake to a same-sex couple.
I’ll admit, when I first read the verdict, it stung. Had the same court that ruled in favor of marriage equality ruled in favor of discrimination? No. No, it hadn’t. That fact became even more clear as I dug into the opinion.
The court’s ruling in this case was extremely narrow and based on facts that are both unlikely to repeat themselves or be applicable to future cases. The Supreme Court reaffirmed its long-standing rule of law that businesses open to the public must be open to all. Although the bakery’s discrimination here went unchecked, it happened because of concerns unique to this case.
Again, the fact remains that while the court left for another day the ultimate question presented by this case, it did not give businesses a constitutional right to discriminate. Instead, the court’s majority opinion expressly and repeatedly reaffirmed that states can seek to prevent the harms of discrimination in the marketplace, including against LGBTQIA people.
The Department of Justice intervened in this case on behalf of the baker and urged the court to undermine more than half a century worth of nondiscrimination protections, but the Justices refused to take the bait. Opponents of equality immediately jumped to claim victory and argued that this opinion gives them a license to discriminate.
IT. DOES. NOT.
I cannot stress enough how important it is that we do not buy into our opponents’ narratives and parrot their talking points when discussing this case. They may have won Monday’s battle, but we will win the war. This is not our first setback, nor will it be our last. There will be future cases that will give the court the opportunity to strike the right balance between equality and the freedoms of speech and religion. In this decision, the court reaffirmed that the latter should not be used to undermine the former.
In the meantime, 60% of states still lack explicit protections from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity/expression in employment, housing, or public accommodations. We must keep fighting for these protections at the state and national levels. It’s time for our nation’s laws to catch up to our values and protect all of us from discrimination. No one should be fired from their job, denied a place to live, or turned away from a business simply because of who they are.