Are Cakes Art? Mormons, Marriage, Religious Freedom, and the Supreme Court

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For the Church of Jesus Christ of -Latter-day Saints, religious freedom is at stake with the upcoming ruling in Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission.

Religious freedom is at stake. Photo of United States Supreme Court building with the Salt Lake Temple and a wedding cake overlaid.

by Joel McDonald

Is the baking and decorating of a wedding cake a form of artistic expression? If so, can a baker refuse to create a cake for a same-sex couple based on their religious beliefs? These are the questions the United States Supreme Court are wrestling with now.

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments yesterday in Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. This case has its beginning in 2012. A gay couple went to Masterpiece Cakeshop to have a cake made for their upcoming wedding. The shop owner turned down their business, citing his religious beliefs. The couple made a discrimination complaint against the cake shop. An investigation of the complaint took place. The cake shop was found to be in violation of Colorado’s anti-discrimination laws. The Colorado Civil Rights Commission and a Colorado court agreed with this ruling. The cake shop owner appealed to the United States Supreme Court and the court agreed to take the case.

Religious Freedom

Any ruling this case will have a significant impact on the debate over religious freedom. This is a cause that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been vigorously promoting. In September, the Church signed onto “friend of the court” filing in support of the cake shop owner. This brief argues that, “An individual who provides personal services like the creation of customized cakes should not be required to create them for an event—a wedding—that he believes is inherently religious, and that he believes is sinful because it conflicts with the fundamental nature of marriage as ordained by God.”

The Church is attempting to carve out religious exemptions in anti-discrimination laws. This is a shift in focus since failing to prevent the legalization of same-sex marriage in the US and beyond. “Religious freedom” is the new buzzword for Mormon leaders. The Church has sent high profile delegates to speak at many conferences on the subject.

The Masterpiece ruling will likely impact the LDS Church’s religious freedom efforts. If decided in favor of the cake shop owner, the Church’s efforts will be legitimized. Laws prohibiting discrimination will be strengthened if the ruling is in favor of the civil rights commission. Either way, this will be a landmark ruling; even if only applied to services requiring artistic expression. During oral arguments yesterday, this distinction appeared difficult to make. If cake bakers and decorators are included, why not hair stylists or makeup artists?

It is always difficult to make predictions about how the Supreme Court will rule based on oral arguments. From the questions asked by the justices yesterday, it appeared that a majority of the court may favor the cake shop. It is clear that any opinion from the court would need to thread a difficult needle. Justice Kennedy is seen as the key vote in this case. He expressed concern that a ruling in favor of the cake shop would allow similar businesses to have signs saying that same-sex couples would not be served. He said such signs would be, “an affront to the gay community.”

3 Comments

  1. Ronald G McCormick says:

    The discussion is ridiculous. How many people declare their lifestyle or religion when they walk into ZCMI, Walmart, Zuchers, or 7-11.? Perhaps city utilities, Tesoro, or the State Highway commission could require pink triangles, Stars of David, Moroni pins, crosses, or crescent moons displayed in order to discriminate based on state religion as to wether or not people purchase a suit, drink the water, drive on the freeways, purchase gas, buy a doughnut, or throw a party. It amounts to nothing short of the same bigotry and fear that existed in the South wherein signs were posted everywhere segregating blacks from whites. On the other hand, I don’t think the LGBT community has the right to shove service down someones throat. Why couldn’t the Mother and her Son not have simply walked away, and made it public notice that the cake-shop refused service. Has anyone ever heard of a boycott? As it turns out, the discriminating cake shop owner has had to let half his staff go, business is failing, and huge amounts of money are being spent to argue this in the Highest Court of the land. Sometimes I think the rising generation in the LGBT community needs to be educated as to how well they have it, and as to the illusion of entitlement. At the same time, I will defend to my last breath their right to eat cake.

  2. Their business is failing because they are no longer designing or decorating wedding cakes. Wedding cakes made up 60% of their business. Their business isn’t because of crushing debt from legal fees. It’s important that the judicial branch judge (and hopefully) validate the new anti discrimination laws. It’s really not about cake or about feeling entitled either.

  3. Makeup artists and hairstylists don’t care, that’s why they aren’t included and if they were discriminating against someone they would have to deal with the law too. They didn’t go in there shouting they were gay they just went in together, said can you bake us a cake and he said no.

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