How Bakeries Got Caught in the Middle of the Gay Marriage War
A Denver bakery faces a religious discrimination complaint after refusing to frost cakes with anti-gay slogans.
Photo by Ashley Hill via Flickr
As same-sex marriage inches closer toward legalization nationwide, bakeries have emerged as an unlikely new battleground for those opposed to marriage equality. Attempting to mirror anti-discrimination rulings against bakeries that refuse service to gay couples, activists have been contacting LGBT-affirming bakeries requesting custom cakes frosted with anti-gay slogans. When the bakeries decline, the customer claims religious discrimination.
In the most recent incident, Colorado resident Bill Jack filed a religious discrimination complaint with the state's civil rights office, after Denver's Azucar Bakery refusing to make a Bible-shaped cake decorated with two-men holding hands, covered by an "X." The bakery's owner, Marjorie Silva, told Out Front Colorado that she offered to "bake the cake in the shape of a Bible, and then I told him I'd sell him a [decorating] bag with the right tip and the right icing so he could write those things himself."
But Jack—the co-founder of Worldview Academy, a Christian youth organization described on its website as "a non-denominational organization dedicated to helping Christians to think and to live in accord with a biblical worldview so that they will serve Christ and lead the culture"—refused, and is claiming that by not making the cake, Silva discriminated against him based on his creed.
At first glance, it looks like Jack and other Christian activists are trying to steal a page out of the progressive playbook, in an attempt to underscore what they see as liberal hypocrisy of anti-discrimination laws. Commenting on Jack's complaint, Focus on the Family spokesman Jeff Johnston toldThe Christian Post that "just as a Christian baker should not be required to create a cake for a same-sex ceremony, this baker should not be required to create a cake with a message that goes against her conscience."
The complaint against Azucar is a sort of a warped reflection of one filed against Masterpiece Bakeshop, another Colorado bakery that was found guilty in 2013 of violating anti-discrimination laws after the owner refused to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple. The store's owners were ordered by a Colorado court end its discriminatory practices, and to submit quarterly reports for two years on it's progress training its employees on the state's anti-discrimination laws.
Despite the suggestion from conservatives, legal experts say that the two cases aren't really all that alike. "There is a difference between refusing to do business with someone based on their characteristics, and refusing to make a particular product," said Jennifer Hendricks, a constitutional law professor at the University of Colorado Boulder . "If you're making a plain cake with flowers on it and will sell it to this type of person, but not that type of person, that's discrimination. [The bakery] aren't saying 'I wont make you [an anti-gay] cake because of your religion, they're saying 'I don't want to make this cake.'"
As the legal battle over same-sex marriage winds down, gay marriage opponents have shifted their focus to the issue of religious freedom, specifically, whether an individual or business has the right to refuse service to someone based on religious beliefs. Bakeries and other wedding vendors have become a flashpoint in this new struggle. Speaking at a Values Voters summit in Washington D.C. last year, Oregon bakeshop owner Melissa Klein burst into tears explaining how the $150,000 fine she incurred for refusing to bake a cake for a pair of marrying lesbians left her bankrupt and out of business. The story enraged anti-gay activist Theodore Shoebat, and inspired him to make a list of 13 LGBT-friendly cake-shops, and film himself calling each one to request a cake decorated with the phrase "Gay Marriage Is Wrong."
"I woke up one morning and said 'lets take the battle to them,'" Shoebat told me in a phone interview. "When the Christian says 'I'm sorry, I can't do it' it's all of the sudden a civil rights issue. But when you ask a pro-homosexual, an openly sodomite bakery, to give me a cake that supports my beliefs, they can say it's against their beliefs. My main intention was to tell other Christians: You can take it to them."
In Colorado, newly-elected state representative Gordon Klingenschmitt—a prominent anti-gay activist who once attempted to exorcise demons from President Obama via an Internet video—has pounced on Jack's complaint, using it as an opportunity to call for new legislation that would allow individuals and businesses to refuse service to people they don't like.
"Right now there's a loophole [in nondiscrimination statutes] that's allowing these bakers to be brought up on charges of discrimination," Klingenschmitt told Fox 31 Denver. "I think the loophole ought to be fixed so that every baker, every artist, every person in Colorado is not compelled by the government to produced anything they personally disagree with."
Klingenschmitt said he is in the middle of drafting legislation on the issue, but hasn't given any details about what that bill might look like. (He did not respond to my phone calls.)
Meanwhile, In the court of public opinion, the claim of religious discrimination against Azucar Bakery has rallied LGBT supporters around the store. "Our usually quiet January at Azucar Bakery has turned out to be more busy than our busiest wedding season!" the store said in a statement on its Facebook page.
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