Pride at Work: Despite SCOTUS, laws still protect LGBTQ people

WASHINGTON—Despite the U.S. Supreme Court’s 7-2 ruling letting a Colorado bakeshop discriminate against a gay couple by refusing to bake them a wedding cake, civil rights laws – state and federal – still protect lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender-queer people, gay rights organizations say.

And that’s the message those groups, including Pride at Work (P@W), are sending out in the wake of the Masterpiece Cakeshop decision, adds Jerame Davis, executive director of P@W, the AFL-CIO’s constituency group for LGBTQ people.

In a decision written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, the court majority said Colorado’s civil rights commission was prejudiced against the devout Christian beliefs of the baker, Jack Phillips. He refused to bake a special-order wedding cake for the gay couple in 2012. At that time, same-sex marriage was not legal in Colorado. The couple had married elsewhere, then returned to their home in the state.

Phillips said the state commission’s order that he bake them a cake violated his First Amendment right to freedom of religion. An administrative law judge, the commission and Colorado courts all ruled against Phillips.

Kennedy ruled for him, but only on the narrow point that the commission was prejudiced against Phillips because of his religion, not that the state civil rights law itself was wrong. The justice chided the state agency for violating the constitution’s “free exercise of religion” clause.

“This wasn’t as bad as it seemed or could have been,” Davis said in a telephone interview. “The fundamentals of state civil rights laws stay intact. The ruling was that they” – the commissioners – “can’t discriminate against religion,” he explained.

Nevertheless, to show their solidarity and their political presence, LGBTQ people planned rallies in cities nationwide during the afternoon of June 4, with the ruling as the topic.

“The laws and the Constitution, can and in some instances, must, protect gay persons in the exercise of their civil rights, but religious and philosophical objections to gay marriage are protected views and in some instances protected forms of expression,” Kennedy wrote.

While Colorado must use its civil rights law to protect all, including LGBTQ people, it must be applied “in a manner that is neutral towards religion,” Kennedy said. There, the commission flunked. Its members were openly hostile to Phillips’ religion and some “characterized it as despicable” and “rhetorical,” the justice wrote. So the court majority sided with Phillips.

The nation’s leading LGBTQ group, the Human Rights Campaign, took the same view Davis did.

“In today’s narrow ruling against the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, the Supreme Court acknowledged that LGBTQ people are equal and have a right to live free from the indignity of discrimination,” said HRC President Chad Griffin. “Anti-LGBTQ extremists did not win the sweeping ‘license to discriminate’ they have been hoping for — and today’s ruling does not change our nation’s longstanding civil rights laws.”

“Yet, the fact remains that LGBTQ people face alarming levels of discrimination all across the country and HRC’s efforts to advance equality are as urgent as ever. With LGBTQ people at risk of being fired, evicted or denied services in 31 states, HRC continues to build momentum for the Equality Act, to elect pro-equality candidates up and down the ballot, and to fight in every corner of our country to advance policies that protect LGBTQ people from being targeted for who they are or whom they love.”


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.