This week Colorado Republican Attorney General Cynthia H. Coffman’s office filed a brief on behalf of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, one of the parties in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, an important case going before the U.S. Supreme Court that concerns a Denver-based baker who refused to sell a wedding cake to a same-sex couple, citing his religious beliefs.
The Colorado Civil Rights Commission enforces Colorado’s non-discrimination law, which prohibits discrimination based on race, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, and more in employment, housing, and public accommodations. Anti-LGBTQ legal group Alliance Defending Freedom has attempted to argue in this and other cases that the First Amendment, which guarantees freedom of religion and expression, somehow allows “religious refusal” carve-outs or a “license to discriminate.”
The Republican Attorney General’s brief is a forceful defense of the importance of non-discrimination laws: “When members of the public walk into retail stores in Colorado, they bring with them a basic expectation: they will not be turned away because of their protected characteristics—including race, sex, religion, or sexual orientation. This case arose because a gay couple was referred to a retail bakery, where the couple hoped to buy a wedding cake. Within moments, however, the couple was denied service. The bakery would sell them neither a custom-designed cake nor a cake identical to one the bakery had sold to its other customers.”
One Colorado praised Attorney General Coffman’s office for defending Coloradans against this attack on LGBTQ residents, and for standing up for the fundamental value that no one should face discrimination because of who they are:
“Attorney General Coffman is doing the right thing by standing alongside Coloradans, enforcing Colorado’s nondiscrimination law, and filing this brief that sets the record straight about our values of equal treatment,” said Daniel Ramos, Executive Director of One Colorado. “It is the role of our elected officials to ensure that no one faces discrimination of any kind – and that includes not legally permitting any business to refuse service to a Coloradan because of who they are. Nondiscrimination is not a Democratic or Republican value — it’s about freedom and opportunity for all and the right of all families to work hard and care for themselves. We thank her for championing a basic belief shared by a bipartisan majority of Americans: When a business opens its doors to the public, it must be open to all.”
Here’s how the Attorney General’s brief sums up the main argument:
“These denials of service are based on the claim that the bakery’s wedding cakes are ‘speech,’ and selling them to gay couples would infringe the First Amendment rights of the bakery’s owner, who objects to the marriages of same-sex couples on religious grounds. Everyone agrees that the government cannot force people or entities to ‘speak.’ School children cannot be punished for refusing to say the pledge of allegiance. A newspaper cannot be compelled to print a politician’s editorial. But those scenarios are nothing like the circumstances here, in which a state law has merely prohibited discriminatory denials of service by businesses open to the public. If a retail bakery will offer a white, three-tiered cake to one customer, it has no constitutional right to refuse to sell the same cake to the next customer because he happens to be African-American, Jewish, or gay.”