Wedding cake ruling is more likely a detour than a roadblock in fight for equality

Wedding cake ruling is more likely a detour than a roadblock in fight for equality

The U.S. Supreme Court, it seems, is not without a sense of cruel irony.

Surely, we can find a better way to ring in Pride Month than Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission: a decision from the nation’s high court Monday that found a Colorado commission erred when ruling against a baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a gay couple back in 2012.

Two men, David Mullins and Charlie Craig, asked the cake shop’s owner, Jack Phillips, to bake them a cake to celebrate their marriage. Phillips flatly refused because he said his religious beliefs forbid gay marriage.

In Trump years, that was roughly a quarter-century ago, but this case has been patiently plodding away in our court system, all the while promising—if not delivering—a precedent for the appropriate time and place to discriminate.

The answer, of course, is never, although, legally speaking, this week’s Supreme Court ruling leaves the question in doubt, despite our country’s undeniable forward momentum on this issue.

Still, even if the 7-2 vote isn’t the full-throated endorsement of Phillips that some on the right would make it out to be, the majority on the Supreme Court must have known what this would look like: a rare victory for a fundamentalist cause that seems all but doomed.

“It’s just that I don’t make cakes for every occasion,” Phillips told NBC’s Today Show Tuesday morning.

No, this is more of a procedural scolding for the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, which Justice Anthony Kennedy chastised for holding a “clear and impermissible hostility toward the sincere religious beliefs” that may have motivated Phillips. Phillips, in the meantime, has become a hero to the religious right and a pariah to virtually anyone who finds fault with outright intolerance.

Of course, Kennedy adds, our nation should not be “subjecting gay persons to indignities when they seek goods and services in an open market,” further evidence that, without the narrow criticism of the state commission, this case may not have gone the way Phillips or the religious right wanted if the court were to decide on the broader issue.

Remember that the United States, when it comes to same-sex marriages, has shifted irrevocably, and in far less time than even the most ardent of advocates might have predicted.

In this, North Carolina is a microcosm. Consider Amendment One, perhaps the low point of many, many low points in the state’s political discourse over the last decade. In 2012, more than 60 percent of voters in a low-turnout primary sided with a far-right push to bar same-sex marriage under the state constitution. A district court judge, heeding the ruling of the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, overturned the embarrassing amendment two years later.

It was a stunning turnaround. Such a reversal of fortunes seems likely under a Supreme Court that, when it comes to LGBTQ rights, seems to hear cases with a keen eye for its legacy.

Yet while this case is often spoken of for its broader implications, let’s consider it for its personal affronts too. It’s a textbook example of the kind of everyday intolerance that plagues the LGBTQ community.

Mullins and Craig wanted a cake, not a political imbroglio.

And when these demeaning interactions occur, they’re not usually trumpeted across headlines in The New York Times and The Washington Post. These everyday indignities happen quietly, in blue and red states alike, with a scowl or a cutting remark from a family member, a slur hurled from a passing car, or exclusion from a work event.

They may bludgeon you over the head with their injustice, when gay couples are denied access to their loved ones in the hospital, or when they endure unspeakable violence. Or sometimes, like in Phillips’ case, they land in some uncomfortable space where private citizens’ religious freedom and discrimination collide, a murky place trolled by the likes of Vice President Mike Pence and the Indiana Republicans that lobbed 2015’s abhorrent “religious freedom” law.

We may not be able to codify empathy, but we can codify equal treatment under the law, the precise point of the Colorado anti-discrimination law that formed the bulwark of the case against Phillips. Phillips may have won his day before the Supreme Court, but that law remains in effect. And a precedent, one way or the other, from the Supreme Court seems an inevitability.

Close this chapter with an ellipsis, not a period.