The Colorado baker’s case: it’s not about gay rights

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Dec 06, 2017

Pay attention to the language used in headlines about this week’s crucial argument before the Supreme Court. Reuters said it was a “gay wedding case.” The New York Times called it a gay rights case.” CNN reported a “same-sex marriage case.” And so on.

All inaccurate. This case was not about gay rights or same-sex marriage.

True, the legal case emerged from a disagreement over same-sex marriage. But the actual legal issues presented to the Supreme Court did not involve the rights of homosexuals. A homosexual couple—whose union was already recognized legally as a marriage, so that was never an issue—wanted to celebrate in Colorado. That was no problem. They were allowed to do so; there was no legal obstacle. They wanted a cake for their celebration. Again: no problem, no legal obstacle. But they wanted to force a particular baker to make the cake, and he declined.

This case does not test the rights of the homosexual couple. It tests the rights of the reluctant baker.

Since the baker cited his religious beliefs to explain his decision, you might say that this is a religious-freedom case, or a freedom-of-conscience case. Or, taking a broader view of the implications, you might call it a freedom-of-expression case. From a broader perspective still, the case involves the right of a “little guy”—the baker—against the power of the state agencies that have, in their regulatory decisions, punished him for his views.

If you cherish individual freedom and civil liberties, you must sympathize with the baker in this case. Which makes it all the more grotesque that the American Civil Liberties Union is representing the plaintiffs: the couple that wants to force a man to act against his conscience.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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  • Posted by: claude-ccc2991 - Dec. 12, 2017 4:36 PM ET USA

    In reality, the case is about the right of human nature to be itself. Not to say that the legal questions are unimportant. But in the hierarchy of meaning, the strongest call is for people to be faithful to the human nature which they've been loaned (it may be a forever loan, but it's still a loan). However, I agree that the "least coercive" criterion one usually sees in cases like this argues that the pseudople shop around for another baker.

  • Posted by: nix898049 - Dec. 07, 2017 11:39 AM ET USA

    On the morning of the 6th I was watching C-span. It ran 2 clips from the previous day. The first was a statement by one of the 'husbands'. You could have heard a pin drop. Next, a statement from the baker. Loud talking, music, shouting until he was almost drowned out. It's beyond forcing him to violate his conscience as a businessman, they won't be happy until he believes sodomy is good, true and beautiful. Shameful, just shameful. And his lawyer takes a 'live and let live' approach. Ha! As if.