Everything You Need To Know About The “Masterpiece Cakeshop” Case Before The Supreme Court


On December 5, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights, a case that could have great implications for LGBT rights.

Kathryn Scott Osler/The Denver Post via Getty Images

It hasn’t gotten as much exposure as other cases before the high court, especially those involving marriage equality. So who are the players and what’s at stake? We’re glad you asked.

Here’s a quick primer on Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights. Check back for more news as the suit progresses.

  1. Who’s involved?


    The plaintiffs are David Mullins and Charlie Craig (above). The defendant is Jack Phillips (below).

    Matthew Staver/For The Washington Post

  2. What’s it about?

    Lindsay Pierce/The Denver Post via Getty Images

    Mullins and Craig visited Masterpiece Cakeshop in July 2012 with Craig’s mother, hoping to order a cake for their upcoming wedding. Phillips, the bakery’s owner, told them he couldn’t sell a wedding cake to a same-sex couple because it violated his religious belief that marriage is between one man and one woman. They filed suit with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, contending Phillips was violating the state’s anti-discrimination law.

    And the commission agreed.

    Phillips, though, argued his right to free speech (via his cakes) was being infringed and appealed all the way to the high court. He’s being bankrolled by The Alliance Defending Freedom, a right-wing Christian legal group that previously defended Prop 8 in federal court. The ADF argues that Phillips’ faith “compels him to use his artistic talents to promote only messages that align with his religious beliefs.”

    The ACLU, which is representing Mullins and Craig, counters that it’s not the message he’s really upset with, it’s the kind of customer. “Everyone has a right to their religious beliefs,” said Mark Silverstein of the Colorado ACLU. “But business owners cannot rely on those beliefs as an excuse to discriminate against prospective customers.”

  3. When and where is it happening?

    Oral arguments will be heard December 5, 2017, at the United States Supreme Court Building in Washington, D.C.

  4. Why should I care?

    At its heart, Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights is not about cake: It’s about whether it is legal to discriminate if it’s part of your religion.

    Phillips doesn’t deny he broke Colorado’s civil rights code—he believes the code is unconstitutional.

    There are thousands of anti-discrimination laws across America that ban bias based on sexual orientation and gender identity, not to mention based on race, marital or parental status, immigration status, or any other number of criteria. If SCOTUS finds for Phillips, it’ll set a precedent that religious beliefs trump civil liberties.

    Various wedding-related businesses have made similar claims, though none of those cases have reached SCOTUS before. (Florist Barronelle Stutzman, who refused to provide flowers for a same-sex ceremony, has already asked her case be consolidated with Phillips.)

    A loss for our side will also give strength to the mounting number of “religious freedom” laws in America.

    Thankfully most Americans oppose anti-LGBT bigotry in the public sector: A 2015 poll showed 61% of respondents were against letting a business, say, refuse to cater a lesbian wedding.

    But the small number that embrace discrimination are really big on it. And they’re organized and have deep pockets. (Also, God.) The Justice Department has filed an amicus brief in support of Masterpiece Cakeshop and the White House has asked to argue on Phillips’ behalf, in addition to his attorneys’ arguments.

    More than 40 briefs have also been filed supporting Mullens and Craig, including ones by Ben & Jerry’s, Tammy Baldwin, and one signed by culinary stars like Anthony Bourdain And Ace Of Cakes’ Duff Goldman. “When a chef offers something to the public,” it read, “he must offer it to all.”

Dan Avery is a writer-editor who focuses on culture, breaking news and LGBT rights. His work has appeared in Newsweek, The New York Times, Time Out New York, The Advocate and elsewhere.