The Masterpiece Cakeshop Supreme Court Case: What You Need to Know, and How You Can Get Involved

You’ve probably heard news stories about the Masterpiece Cakeshop case: the case in which a Colorado baker refused to sell a wedding cake to a gay couple. The baker was found by the Colorado Civil Rights Commission to be in violation of Colorado’s anti-discrimination law and has appealed that ruling to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court’s response to this case is of critical importance not only to LGBTQ rights in this country, but to securing the equal treatment of all individuals and groups who could be refused service in a public business or service setting. This case is about a whole lot more than just cake.

What’s happening this week?

On Tuesday December 5, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the case Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. The baker and owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, Jack Phillips, represented by a legal team from the Alliance Defending Freedom, is appealing the Colorado Civil Rights Commission’s ruling that he violated Colorado state law by refusing to sell a wedding cake to Charlie Craig and Dave Mullins. Craig and Mullins, as the respondents to this appeal, are represented by a legal team from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). While oral arguments will take place this week, the Supreme Court’s ruling will likely come in late Spring or early Summer of 2018.

A rally is taking place on the steps of the Supreme Court starting at 8AM on Tuesday December 5. Family Equality Council’s Chief Policy Officer, Denise Brogan-Kator, is among the speakers. To learn more, click here.

How is Family Equality Council involved?

An adverse ruling in this case would have a dramatic, negative impact on our work to secure legal and lived equality for LGBTQ families, by creating a sweeping license to discriminate on the grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity (along with a host of other characteristics). In past legal battles, as part of the movement for LGBTQ equality, Family Equality Council’s “Voices of Children” amicus briefs have made a significant impact by demonstrating the real harm done to the children of LGBTQ families by unequal treatment and discrimination.

In the Masterpiece case, we joined with Lambda Legal to collaborate on a similar amicus brief that highlights how pervasive discrimination is in the everyday life of LGBTQ people, and demonstrates the immediate and lasting harmful effects of such discrimination, including on families and children. We worked with our national network of LGBTQ families to source stories of parents and their children who have experienced the type of discrimination that would be encouraged and emboldened nationwide if the petitioners in the Masterpiece case are successful.

Several such stories are included in the final amicus brief filed with the Supreme Court on October 30, including an account of a same-sex couplet in Tennessee who were turned away by multiple healthcare providers when seeking midwifery care, when trying to enroll in birthing classes, and again two years later when they tried to bring their son to a local childcare center. Another account featured in the brief tells the story of the child of a lesbian couple in Texas who was refused emergency treatment by a pediatric dentist who told the parent that “a child cannot have two mothers” and demanded to see the “real mother” and a birth certificate before treating the child.

Why is the Masterpiece case so important?

As a nation, we decided over 50 years ago that businesses that are open to the public should be open to everyone on the same terms, and that should include LGBTQ people. Nobody should be turned away from a business, denied service, fired from their job, or evicted from their home simply because of who they are, and in order to prevent that from happening, we have passed laws prohibiting such discrimination. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 is a great example – and if the Supreme Court were to side with Masterpiece Cakeshop in this case, we would see broad exemptions carved out of existing, and future, non-discrimination laws.

Protecting people from discrimination is part of our country’s promise of equal treatment under the law for everyone. Freedom of speech and freedom of religion are core American values, which is why they are protected in the First Amendment. However, those freedoms don’t give businesses open to the public the right to discriminate when serving their customers. Remember: a business can choose what products or services to sell, but once it has chosen to make those products or services available, it must make them available to everyone. To do otherwise is to discriminate, plain and simple.

Who else is speaking up?

The Masterpiece case has sparked warnings from civil rights leaders, legal scholars, businesses, faith leaders and LGBTQ advocates across the country. Alongside the amicus brief filed by Lambda Legal and Family Equality Council on October 30, briefs in support of Craig and Mullins were filed by 35 national business leaders, the nation’s most prominent civil rights organizations, almost 1,300 faith leaders, over 200 members of Congress, state attorneys general from across the country, and many others (see a complete list here).

Commenting on the Masterpiece case on October 30, Rep. John Lewis, on the nation’s most influential civil rights leaders, said:
“As a nation based on laws, we must move forward, not backwards. I remember the signs that said ‘whites only’ and ‘colored only.’ I remember when businesses open to the public engaged in blatant discrimination against people based on religion, race, and gender. To allow any business to discriminate based on sexual orientation in this day and age is simply wrong and would be a step back to a darker time.”

We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.

However, the Trump Administration’s Department of Justice, under the leadership of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, has filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the Supreme Court arguing that businesses open to the public that sell creative or artistic products for events like weddings should have a right to discriminate against same-sex couples. They also argue that the government doesn’t have a sufficiently important interest in ending discrimination based on sexual orientation. This represents yet another truly chilling intervention from the nation’s top law enforcement agency charged with enforcing non-discrimination laws, and signals how much work remains to be done.

How can we take action?

Family Equality Council has partnered with the Movement Advancement Project on the #OpenToAll campaign: a broad, public education effort to highlight what is at stake in the Masterpiece case.

We encourage you to visit and share the campaign materials on social media.

You can also sign the people’s petition in support of Craig and Mullins at

And if you’re in Washington D.C. this Tuesday, come join us on the steps of the Supreme Court!