In 2012, Colorado residents David Mullins and Charlie Craig visited Masterpiece Cakeshop to order a cake for their upcoming wedding reception. Masterpiece owner Jack Phillips informed them that because of his religious beliefs, the store would not serve customers who wanted to order cakes to celebrate a same-sex couple’s wedding.
The Colorado Civil Rights Commission and the Colorado Court of Appeals both ruled that Masterpiece’s denial of service to Mullins and Craig violated the Colorado Civil Rights Act, which prohibits businesses that are open to the public from turning away customers based on factors such as race, sex, marital status or sexual orientation.
On June 26, 2017, the Supreme Court of the United States announced that it would review the decision of the Colorado Court of Appeals. NCLR filed friend of the court briefs in support of Mullins and Craig in both the Colorado Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court. NCLR’s briefs focused on the serious harm that a decision permitting businesses to refuse to serve customers based on their sexual orientation would inflict on LGBTQ people, especially at a time when they have begun to make significant progress toward full legal equality.
NCLR’s Supreme Court brief was filed jointly with GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders and Pierce Atwood LLP. Arnold & Porter LLP was co-counsel on NCLR’s brief in the Colorado Court of Appeals. Mullins and Craig were represented by the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation.
On June 4, 2018, the Supreme Court issued its opinion. The Court affirmed the bedrock principle that religious objections ordinarily do not allow business owners to deny LGBTQ persons and other protected categories of persons equal access to goods and services under a neutral and generally applicable public accommodations law. The Court ruled, however, that certain aspects of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission’s treatment of the case indicated an anti-religious bias in its enforcement of the law against Phillips, and on that basis, reversed the lower court’s ruling.