ACLU prez vs. cake bills

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LINDA MARKLUND
  • Linda Marklund
Let them eat cake — or don't.

As far as the media was concerned, this appeared to be the central argument behind Colorado House Bills 1171 and 1161, both of which failed Monday. The bills grew out of disputes over cakes, starting with a gay couple who wanted a cake for their wedding reception and were turned down by Jack Phillips, the owner of Lakewood's Masterpiece Cakeshop. Phillips refused to make the cake because he said he opposed gay marriage on religious grounds. The matter was referred to the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, which sided with the gay couple.

From there, the issue snowballed — various attempts were made to get bakers to put anti-gay slogans or biblical quotes on cakes. When bakers refused, those cases were also handed off to the Civil Rights Commission, where they are being reviewed.

HB1171 and HB1161 aimed to fix the problem by saying that freedom of speech and religion should allow expressive businesses to turn away customers with which they don't agree. (Rep. Gordon Klingenschmitt, the Colorado Springs Republican known for his anti-gay statements, sponsored HB1161.)

Nathan Woodliff-Stanley, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado, was among those who spoke against the bills. You can read his prepared testimony here. Basically, Woodliff-Stanley says that the bills were far too broad, and would have allowed widespread discrimination by businesses against people based on sexual orientation, religion, race and other differences. He says that the laws would have violated equal protection under the 14th Amendment, and stood in violation of Colorado's own anti-discrimination laws.

In other words, the impact of the laws, he says, were  "certainly not limited to cake.”

But what about the cake? Does this mean that any baker must make any cake with any message on it? Woodliff-Stanley says he really doesn't think so. The problem isn't so much what the cake says — it's who can buy it.

“The real issue is when you’d make it for somebody, but you wouldn’t make it for somebody else,” he says.

Take Masterpiece. It makes wedding cakes. It wasn't the design of the wedding cake for the gay couple that Phillips objected to — that wasn't even discussed. Phillips simply didn't want to make a cake for a gay couple.

“It’s not about the design," Phillips-Stanley explains. "It's not about the message or anything like that. It’s about who wanted to buy the cake.”

If a bakery has an across-the-board rule that, say, it doesn't make cakes with obscene words on them, it can refuse any such cake requests, Woodliff-Stanley explains. 

“It’s about making sure whatever they do offer," he says, "they offer to everybody."

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