Masterpiece Cakeshop Case Holds Promise for Full Legal Equality

The following is a statement from Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director, in response to the U.S. Supreme Court decision in the Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, No. 16-111 case.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case is disappointing for two reasons, but reassuring for one.

First, by deciding in favor of a Colorado baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a gay couple, the court bolsters those in our country who want to use religious liberty as a tool for discrimination against LGBT people. They will think that they won the right to discriminate.  They didn’t. The court decided a procedural issue, not the civil rights issue at the heart of the case.

Second, by ruling on only a narrow element of the case—whether the state’s civil rights commission was prejudiced against religion—the court ignored the more important issues of whether LGBT people are going to be considered second-class citizens in the U.S. Because they did not decide on the civil rights issue, justice is still being delayed.

The reassuring part of the decision is that the Court, in its majority opinion, seems intent on protecting the rights of LGBT people.  Justice Anthony Kennedy, a Catholic, wrote for the majority:

“The outcome of cases like this in other circumstances must await further elaboration in the courts, all in the context of recognizing that these disputes must be resolved with tolerance, without undue disrespect to sincere religious beliefs, and without subjecting gay persons to indignities when they seek goods and services in an open market.”

The vote on the decision was 7-2, though Justice Clarence Thomas wanted the decision to be broader in scope.  Still, that means that at least six Supreme Court Justices have affirmed the need to protect the civil rights of LGBT people. If they keep that value before their eyes in future cases, we can look forward to future of true justice and equality in the U.S.  Counting the two who dissented, Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor, both who clearly support LGBT equality, means that civil rights stand a good chance of being guaranteed.

The guarantee will only come, however, if people continue to work for equality and justice for LGBT people. U.S. Catholics, who have supported LGBT equality in the past, will surely be a large part of the work going forward.   Catholics want their LGBT friends, family members, and co-workers to be protected by the laws of our land.  They want to live in a country where one’s religion is not used as a tool to harm other people or treat them less than their human dignity requires.

Religious liberty is a cherished American value, but it is also an important Catholic value.  Catholics support true religious liberty which does not support discrimination.  Discrimination is neither an American nor Catholic value. Catholic social teaching calls for respect of all human people, regardless of whether a person agrees with them or not, likes them or not. Catholics know that the best way to protect one’s religious liberty is to protect the liberty of all people.

New Ways Ministry looks forward to the next court case—and others are already in the pipeline—that will make sure that religious liberty and LGBT equality coexist.  For today, we are happy that the majority of the Supreme Court has supported LGBT civil rights. We pray that such a view will be maintained when the next case comes across their desks.

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Bondings 2. 0 will continue reporting on other Catholic responses to this Supreme Court decision later this week.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, June 5, 2018

2 replies
  1. John Hilgeman
    John Hilgeman says:

    I have an almost visceral reaction to the term “religious liberty.” Not because I disagree with the importance of religious liberty. But because the term has been twisted by so many antigay religious (some of them Catholic) leaders, into a license allowing individuals and religious institutions to use their personal or institutional “religious” beliefs to blatantly discriminate against LGBT people, and against others whose rights they do not want to honor.

    My concern is that this Court decision is already being touted as a win for such individuals and leaders to put their biases into action; and that this decision may be used down the road to further erode the rights of not only LGBT people, but others, to be treated civilly and equally under the law and in the public marketplace.

  2. thomas bower
    thomas bower says:

    Justice delayed is justice denied. It is too bad the Colorado Commission was less than polite, but the Supreme court is not an manners arbitrator, but a dispenser of the country’s laws. We waited more than a decade after the Bower v Hardwick case because Justice Brennan didn’t think many people would be effected by equalizing the rights of LGBT individuals. We need full equality now.


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