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Supporting LGBT Rights and a Religious Baker at the Same Time

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.

Can people of good will believe that LGBT people should not be denied services based on their sexual orientation and, at the same time, support the rights of a baker such as Jack Phillips to refuse to use his creative talents in ways the violate his deeply-held religious beliefs?  The answer is yes - because I support LGBT rights and Jack Phillips, too.

Eleven years ago, I helped lead a statewide campaign in Colorado to provide basic legal rights to the LGBT community.   As a conservative Republican, I took at lot of heat, which I happily accepted — just as I will take a lot of heat for my opinion here.  From then until now, it has been a constant concern where government would draw the line and protect those whose religious beliefs sincerely preclude them from endorsing same-sex marriage. It was an issue Justice Anthony Kennedy touched on in his opinion legalizing marriage,

It was only a matter of time before a case like that of Masterpiece Cakeshop sparked a national controversy.  And while there is no question that there are many who say, “If you back the baker you hate gay people,” the issues are far more nuanced, no matter your political persuasion.  Easy cases rarely make it to the U.S. Supreme Court.

While of little solace to the couple that was understandably angered by Mr. Phillips’ decision, the reality is that the tables have turned 180 degrees.  Where not many years ago, refusing to make a cake for a gay couple’s wedding would seem unremarkable, now it is a Christian such as Jack Phillips who finds himself facing down the power of government to force him to deny his deepest, most heartfelt identity and values.

In thinking about this, there are three questions that are complex and challenging but, in my view, end up tipping the scale ever toward Masterpiece Cakeshop.  First, was the couple in question denied service solely because they are gay?

While the door at Masterpiece is open to everyone, you are not guaranteed any product for any occasion.  Yes, Mr. Phillips won’t bake a cake for your same-sex wedding.  But he also won’t bake a cake for your Halloween party (too bad, witches!) and if Grandma wants a couple of shots of rum in her birthday cake, you’re out of luck.

No Halloween.  No alcohol.  No same-sex weddings.

That is how his religious principles shape his menu because he believes that work must honor his faith in God.   Faith isn’t one hour on Sunday mornings but as much a part of him, 24/7, as his skin and his bones.  Are his principled limitations decidedly minority views among bakers?  Of course.  But different isn’t illegal, and it should not provide a route for government to get into the cake menu business and become the Office of Confectionery Compliance.

Secondly, isn’t a cake one more generic component of a wedding celebration, little different from the choice of limousine, for example?   Initially one would agree and, frankly, guffaw at a cake being a type of artistic expression.  Yet Americans marvel at the amazing creations seen each week on television’s “Cake Wars.”  Here in Denver, a “sensual” bakery depicts body parts in very expressive and creative ways.  Jack Phillips isn’t pulling down a box of Betty Crocker and whipping up the birthday cake Mom made in the kitchen; he is a creative artist who happens to be a baker.

The final question, then, is do we want the government compelling artists to create messages that violate their consciences?   Or be required by government fiat to, by their presence and/or the offering of their talents, to endorse an event that they find anathema to their personally held religious beliefs?

To me, the answer is no, and represents the kind of overreach by government that was a worry a decade ago:  a growing majority trampling on the legitimate rights and religious liberty of those who do not approve, and will not approve, of same-sex marriage.    

The Supreme Court may decide that we, as a society, cannot strike a balance between ensuring that LGBT people are appropriately accommodated as they should and must be and the ability to appropriately dissent based on one’s religious beliefs.   If that is the decision, the freedom of every American — gay or straight, religious or atheist — is diminished, not just that of one Colorado baker.

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