On June 4, 2018, the United States Supreme Court delivered its much-anticipated decision in Masterpiece Cakeshop Ltd., et al. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, et al. In an extremely narrow ruling, the Supreme Court held that Masterpiece Cakeshop did not have to pay penalties for refusing to prepare a wedding cake for a same sex couple. It is crucial to note that the Supreme Court did not rule on the question of whether the bakery, or any private business, may deny services to same-sex couples based on religious beliefs. Indeed, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Masterpiece Cakeshop on solely procedural grounds, finding that members of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission (the government panel that initially levied penalties against Masterpiece Cakeshop) displayed bias in the proceedings below.
In the wake of the Masterpiece Cakeshop decision, members of the LGBTQ community should be aware that the Colorado statute making it unlawful for business to discriminate based on sexual orientation remains in effect, and that the Supreme Court did not find the statute unconstitutional. Businesses in Colorado are still forbidden from discriminating against a person on the basis of a person’s sexual orientation, religion, disability, race, creed, color, sex, age, national origin or ancestry. Further, the Masterpiece Cakeshop decision does not allow business owners, generally, to deny services to customers based on religious beliefs.
Like Colorado, many states across the country have enacted laws that protect against discrimination in places of public accommodation, such as private businesses. In particular, New Yorkers enjoy robust protections against discrimination under the New York State Human Rights Law and the New York City Human Rights Law, both of which prohibit businesses from discriminating against individuals on the basis of sexual orientation.
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About Patrick J. Collopy