“Will this big, diverse country of ours still have room for me and the millions of others who share my beliefs about marriage?”
That’s the main question on Colorado cake artist Jack Phillips’ mind as he awaits a decision from the U.S. Supreme Court in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, and it’s one he shared in a recent article posted on The Washington Post's website.
It’s a question we should all consider.
Jack is a Christian who believes what the Bible teaches about marriage, that it is the union of one man and one woman. This is not a new and radical idea. That belief is shared by people across diverse religious groups and has been for thousands of years. When the Supreme Court required states to start recognizing same-sex marriage in Obergefell, the court acknowledged that Jack’s beliefs about marriage are held “in good faith by reasonable and sincere people here and throughout the world.”
But Colorado’s treatment of Jack has been anything but reasonable.
When Jack politely declined to design a custom cake for a same-sex wedding, he offered to sell the couple anything off his shelves or to design a cake for them for a different event. As Jack writes, “I serve everyone, but I can’t create custom cakes that express messages or celebrate events in conflict with my faith.”
Colorado refused to acknowledge this.
Instead, the government treated Jack’s beliefs with hostility after the couple filed a complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission. The Commission ordered Jack to re-educate his staff, explaining that it is discriminatory for him to act on his religious beliefs about marriage. He was also ordered either to start designing cakes celebrating same-sex weddings, or to stop designing custom wedding cakes altogether.
The harm to Jack didn’t stop there, as he recounts in his article:
The government’s hostility toward my beliefs has spread through pockets of my community. My life and the lives of my family have been threatened repeatedly. Last year, one man swore that he’d shoot me in the head, and another threatened to kill me with a machete—all for declining to create a wedding cake.
After being treated so horribly, it’s no surprise that someone like Jack would begin to question if he belongs.
But the truth is that in a truly diverse and free society, there is room for everyone. You can support same-sex marriage and also support Jack Phillips. Views about important issues like marriage change. But the First Amendment exists to ensure that people of good will who hold beliefs disfavored by the government are free to live out those beliefs.
If the government is permitted to cast out and marginalize those who hold beliefs outside of the favored viewpoint, that should concern us all. It’s certainly something that concerns Jack. He explains it this way:
It is troubling to imagine what the future looks like for me and the millions of others — whether Muslims, orthodox Jews, or fellow Christians — who believe as part of their faith that marriage is the union of a man and a woman. After years of my state telling me that I must hide, ignore, or reject that belief, my sense is that we just don’t belong anymore.
Tolerance and respect for good-faith differences of opinion are essential in a pluralistic society like ours. That’s what Jack is fighting for. And we hope the Supreme Court makes it clear when they decide his case that there is room for Jack and those like him in our society – that they belong. Perhaps Jack describes this hope best:
We all want to belong. I’m no different. The Supreme Court’s decision in my case will say a lot about the First Amendment. But I sure hope the court makes it clear that I belong, too.