Religious beliefs, gay rights clash in court case over same-sex couple’s wedding cake

Jack Phillips of Masterpeice Cakeshop in Denver. AP

Jack Phillips of Masterpeice Cakeshop in Denver.AP

Jack Phillips of Masterpeice Cakeshop in Denver.

DENVER — A case that tests the boundaries of religious freedom and gay rights came to the Colorado Court of Appeals on Tuesday, with a suburban Denver baker urging judges not to force him to make cakes for same-sex couples because it would violate his beliefs.

But attorneys representing a gay couple who were denied a wedding cake in 2012 countered that allowing businesses to turn away customers through religious exemptions will facilitate future discrimination.

“Religious beliefs do not put the cake shop above the law,” argued Ria Mar, an American Civil Liberties Union attorney representing the couple. The court will issue a ruling later.

The case underscores how the already simmering tension between religious-freedom advocates and gay-rights supporters is likely to become more heated in the aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court‘s landmark ruling last month legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide.

“What the relationship is between that reality and sort of what that will mean for things like service provisions is where I think the battles will really be fought now,” said Melissa Hart, a law professor at the University of Colorado.

As gay rights gained greater acceptance in recent years, the Colorado case and others like it in other states have ignited a passionate debate over whether individuals can cite their beliefs as a basis for declining to participate in a same-sex wedding ceremony. In other states, gay couples have prevailed.

Last week, the owners of a Portland, Oregon-area bakery that declined to make a wedding cake for a gay couple two years ago were ordered to pay $135,000 in damages. Two years ago, the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled that a photographer who wouldn’t take pictures of a gay couple’s 2006 commitment ceremony violated the state’s anti-discrimination law.

In Washington state, a florist has been fighting a lawsuit filed after she refused to provide services for a gay wedding in 2013.

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