A divided Supreme Court on Monday absolved a Colorado baker of discrimination for refusing to create a custom wedding cake for a same-sex couple, ruling that the state exhibited “religious hostility” against him.
As reported in USA Today, the 7-2 verdict criticized the state’s treatment of Jack Phillips’ religious objections to gay marriage in 2012, several years before the practice was legalized nationwide. The justices ruled that a state civil rights commission was hostile to him while allowing other bakers to refuse to create cakes that demeaned gays and same-sex marriages.
“Because of the very specific, not-likely-to-be-repeated basis on which Justice Anthony Kennedy resolved the case, it didn’t end being the blockbuster resolution of the LGBTQ rights/freedom of expression conflict most people were expecting,” John Culhane wrote in Politico. “Future cases, he noted, must be resolved without ‘subjecting gay persons to indignities when they seek goods and services in an open market.’”
The Freedom From Religion Foundation notes that although “the decision will be promoted by the Religious Right as a sweeping victory, the court did not give them what they wanted; it did not redefine religious liberty as an unqualified license to discriminate or give the bakery the green light to discriminate in the future.”
People of faith are also grappling with the ramifications of the ruling.
Tim Swarens wrote in a USA Today article, “My side — the socially conservative, evangelical Christian side — supposedly won a major victory Monday when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of a Colorado baker who declined to make a wedding cake for a gay couple. But it doesn’t feel like a win to me. ... I can’t celebrate a victory when one person’s convictions and rights are deemed less important than someone else’s.”
People in mainstream denominations are pondering how to move forward. The United Methodist Church’s Council of Bishops was asked at the 2016 General Conference to solve the problem of how to deal with the issues of same-sex marriage and clergy homosexuality in the UMC, both banned by the UM Book of Discipline, by the next convention in 2020. The bishops’ “Commission on a Way Forward” offers two plans, according to the Rev. Rob Ernest. “The One Church Plan ‘provides conferences, churches and pastors the flexibility to uniquely reach their missional context while retaining the connectional nature of the United Methodist Church.’ This means that each UM church and pastor would decide for themselves if they will allow same-sex weddings, and individual conferences will decide if they will ordain self-avowed homosexuals. This would also necessitate the removal from the BOD the restrictive and disciplinary language condemning the practice of homosexuality.”
In other words, this denomination is asking whether some churches might prefer a ministry that is more inclusive of the people in its community, rather than one that is not. It would be great if cake makers and other business people felt the same, but they are free to disagree.