And the bad news: Justices side with baker who used his religious beliefs to discriminate against same-sex couples.
By Bob Vitale
Advocates in Ohio and across the nation are looking on the bright side of a 7-2 U.S. Supreme Court ruling today that upheld a Colorado baker’s right to discriminate against a gay couple shopping for a wedding cake.
Yes, LGBTQ organizations, civil-rights groups and others said, the conservative-leaning court sided with someone who used his opposition to marriage equality as a reason to deny gay people services that he offers everyone else.
But justices could have issued a decision that was so much worse.
“This case could have gone many different directions, including undermining LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination protections,” said Alana Jochum, executive director of Equality Ohio. “It didn’t do that.”
“Instead, the Supreme Court affirmed that nondiscrimination protections are valid. Period. The court had concerns with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission’s findings in this specific case but affirmed the longstanding American history of protecting people—including, in some states, same-sex couples—from discrimination.”
In his opinion for Justices Samuel Alito, Stephen Breyer, Neil Gorsuch, Elena Kagan, Clarence Thomas and Chief Justice John Roberts—Justice Anthony Kennedy dodged the constitutional bigger question that many thought the court would settle: whether the obligation of businesses to follow nondiscrimination laws trumps an individual’s religious liberties.
Colorado, unlike Ohio, forbids discrimination against LGBTQ people in employment, housing and public accommodations.
But the court couldn’t get to the bedrock issue of equal treatment vs. religious freedom, Kennedy said, because the Colorado Civil Rights Commission was so openly hostile to the religious beliefs of baker Jack Philipps that he didn’t get a fair hearing.
Kennedy affirmed the power of states, however, to enact and enforce LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination laws.
“Our society has come to the recognition that gay persons and gay couples cannot be treated as social outcasts or as inferior in dignity and worth,” he wrote. “For that reason the laws and the Constitution can, and in some instances must, protect them in the exercise of their civil rights. The exercise of their freedom on terms equal to others must be given great weight and respect by the courts.”
That led Jochum to this conclusion: “What this ruling means is that when HB160—the Ohio Fairness Act—passes, LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination protections will be enforceable in Ohio. That’s important.”
State Rep. Nickie Antonio, D-Lakewood, who introduced the Ohio Fairness Act in this session of the Ohio General Assembly, said the ruling mean, ultimately, that Colorado businesses may not discriminate.
“It is more important now than ever before to stand tall and say that discrimination has no place in our country,” Antonio said. “We have been working in coalition for the past eight years to create these same protections for LGBTQ+ Ohioans. It is time that HB 160 will receive further consideration and pass into law this General Assembly.”
The ACLU of Ohio has four sessions planned tonight at 5:30 p.m. in Cincinnati, Cleveland and Columbus to discuss the ruling and its impact:
• Cincinnati: Queen City Exchange, 32 W. Court St., 45202.
• Cleveland: Jukebox, 1404 W. 29th St., 44113.
• Columbus: The Olde Oak, 62 Parsons Ave., 43215.
• Toledo: Black Kite Coffeee, 2499 Collingwood Blvd., 43620.
“It’s important to note that the SupremeCourt did not change the long-standing rule that businesses open to the public must be open to all,” the ACLU of Ohio said in announcing the sessions.
“The court did not accept arguments that would have turned back the clock on equality by making our basic civil-rights protections unenforceable,” read a statement by the national ACLU.
U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio:
Rick Neal, Democratic candidate for the U.S. House from Ohio’s 15th District:
Betsy Rader, Democratic candidate for the U.S. House from Ohio’s 14th District: