Yesterday, the Colorado Court of Appeals unanimously declared that a Colorado bakery’s refusal to make wedding cakes for same-sex couples violates Colorado’s Anti-Discrimination Act (CADA). This decision affirmed the May 2014 finding of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission that no person can be denied the full and equal enjoyment of places of public accommodation on the basis of sexual orientation, even if the exclusion is based on a sincerely-held religious belief. The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) filed a “friend of the court” brief in the case supporting the appellees, Charlie Craig and David Mullins.
“Yesterday the Colorado Court of Appeals affirmed a longstanding and hard-fought principle of civil rights law—that no one should be denied equal access to places of public accommodation based solely on who they are,” said Sherrilyn Ifill, President and Director-Counsel of LDF.
In July 2012, Charlie Craig and David Mullins visited Masterpiece Cakeshop to order a cake for their upcoming wedding reception. Masterpiece Cakeshop’s owner informed the couple that due to his religious beliefs, the store’s policy was to deny services to customers seeking wedding cakes for same-sex weddings or celebrations. Craig and Mullins thereafter filed a complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Division, alleging that Masterpiece Cakeshop’s policy violates CADA’s prohibition on sexual orientation-based denial of services in places of public accommodation. The Colorado Civil Rights Commission agreed with Craig and Mullins, and Masterpiece Cakeshop appealed to the Colorado Court of Appeals, arguing, among other things, that CADA violated the First Amendment right to the free exercise of his religious beliefs. Yesterday, the Colorado Court of Appeals rejected that appeal, concluding that “CADA was not designed to impede religious conduct and does not impose burdens on religious conduct not imposed on secular conduct. . . . CADA forbids all discrimination based on sexual orientation regardless of its motivation.”
LDF’s “friend of the court” brief explained that the right to the free exercise of religious belief is not absolute, and can be regulated to prevent harms to society, such as discrimination. LDF also noted that Masterpiece Cakeshop’s religious justification for its discriminatory policy echoed the religious reasons offered to justify slavery, defend Jim Crow segregation, uphold anti-miscegenation laws, and support the laws and practices that denied African Americans the full and equal enjoyment of places of public accommodation. LDF argued and the Colorado Court of Appeals held that for the same reasons that religious arguments were inadequate to uphold racial segregation, religious justifications for sexual orientation discrimination must also fail.
The Court concluded, “if [Masterpiece Cakeshop] wishes to operate as a public accommodation and conduct business within the State of Colorado, CADA prohibits it from picking and choosing customers based on their sexual orientation.”
The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) is not a part of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) although LDF was founded by the NAACP and shares its commitment to equal rights. Since 1957, LDF has been a completely separate organization. Please refer to us in media attributions as the “NAACP Legal Defense Fund” or “LDF”.