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Masterpiece Cakeshop question returns to the Supreme Court

The Supreme Court has once again been asked to weigh in on the case of a baker who refused to make a cake for a same-sex marriage celebration because doing so would violate the baker’s religious beliefs.

Less than five months ago, the justices issued a narrow ruling in the case of Jack Phillips, a devout Christian and Colorado baker who told a gay couple that he would not design a cake for their upcoming festivities. The decision, authored by now-retired Justice Anthony Kennedy, emphasized that the Colorado administrative agency that had ruled against Phillips had treated him unfairly by being too hostile to Phillips’ religious convictions. However, the Supreme Court did not resolve a key question in the case: When can sincerely held religious beliefs like Phillips’ trump neutral laws that apply to everyone?

In a petition for review filed on Friday, an Oregon couple has asked the Supreme Court to return to that question. The couple, Melissa and Aaron Klein, owned a bakery in the Portland suburbs that they called Sweetcakes by Melissa.

In 2013, Rachel Bowman-Cryer and her mother, Cheryl, visited Sweetcakes to order a wedding cake for Rachel’s upcoming marriage to her fiancée, Laurel. When Aaron Klein learned that two women would be getting married, he told Rachel and Cheryl that the bakery did not make cakes for same-sex ceremonies because the Kleins believe that a marriage is limited to the union between a man and a woman.

Rachel and Laurel filed a complaint with a state administrative agency, arguing that the Kleins had refused to serve them because of their sexual orientation. The agency concluded that the Kleins had violated state laws barring businesses that serve the public from discriminating based on sexual orientation, and it awarded the Bowman-Cryers $135,000. A state appeals court upheld that ruling, rebuffing the Kleins’ argument that applying the state’s anti-discrimination laws to them violates the First Amendment by compelling them to “express a message—a celebration of same-sex marriage—with which they disagree.”

The Kleins have now asked the Supreme Court to take up their case. Invoking language from the majority’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, finding a constitutional right to same-sex marriage, they urge the justices to grant review “to ensure that the constitutionally guaranteed rights to exercise one’s religious beliefs and to express those beliefs are not subordinated to a new majoritarian effort to” attack the convictions of individuals who oppose same-sex marriage “based on decent and honorable religious or philosophical premises.”

The Kleins – whose lawyers report that they were forced to close their bakery in 2013 because business had declined – add that their case is an even better candidate for review than Masterpiece Cakeshop’s was because some of the “uncertainties about the record” in Masterpiece Cakeshop are not present here – for example, the Kleins only sell custom cakes, so there is no question about whether the Kleins refused to sell the Bowman-Cryers a custom cake or instead refused to sell them any cake at all.

The state will now have approximately a month to respond to the Kleins’ petition, although it could seek a 30-day extension. Depending on the precise timing of the briefing, if the justices opt to grant review, they could potentially hear oral argument in the case and issue a ruling before the end of June.

This post was originally published at Howe on the Court.

Recommended Citation: Amy Howe, Masterpiece Cakeshop question returns to the Supreme Court, SCOTUSblog (Oct. 22, 2018, 12:59 PM),