Opinion: Why court needs to decide gay wedding case

When I got married last summer, my wife’s seven-year-old cousin decided, with some delight, to celebrate the event by sticking his entire hand into the double-decker masterpiece at the dessert table with our names on it. This is one way to sabotage a gay wedding cake.

Another, less messy, way is to refuse to bake it in the first place. This is the preferred method of Colorado baker-turned-hero-of-the-religious-right, Jack Phillips.

You may have heard of him. In 2012, when David Mullins and Charlie Craig tried to order a custom cake for their upcoming wedding from Phillips’ bakery, Masterpiece Cakeshop, he refused to take the order, stating that baking a custom cake for a same-sex wedding would go against his Christian beliefs. Phillips could make the betrothed something else – a birthday cake, a batch of cookies, a confection crudely moulded into the shape of an acoustic guitar. But a custom cake for a same-sex wedding? Forget about it. Unfortunately for Phillips, Mullins and Craig didn’t. They took him to court instead.

Fast forward five years, and Phillip’s refusal to provide a service to gays that he regularly provided heterosexuals is the subject of a United States Supreme Court case being debated this week. So far media reports suggest that SCOTUS is divided on the case, a division that raises an important question: If you rule in favour of Phillips’s religious freedom to refuse a specific service to gays, what’s to stop a slew of other businesses from discriminating against minorities on the same grounds?

In other words, anyone, regardless of personal bias, would probably be compelled to agree that Phillips vs. Gay Wedding Cakes is a case in which the ultimate ruling will have consequences that reach far beyond a single bakery. But not everyone is anyone. In a recent column titled “How Not to Advance Gay Marriage New York Times columnist David Brooks, who supports same-sex marriage, makes the remarkable argument that Mullins and Craig shouldn’t have taken Phillips to court at all. This is because the court system, a la Brooks, is “dehumanizing. It ends persuasion and relies on the threat of state coercion. It is elitist. It takes a situation that could be addressed concretely on the ground and throws it up, as this one now has been, to the Supreme Court, where it will be decided by a group of Harvard and Yale law grads.”

Sort of makes sense, right? That’s what I thought the first time I read it. Then I thought, wait, you know what’s dehumanizing? Being refused a service because the person across the counter thinks your relationship is an abomination. But Brooks isn’t finished yet. What does he think Mullins and Craig should have done instead of seeking help from the state? They should have taken the “neighbourly approach.”

First of all, a couple planning a wedding, gay or straight, does not have time to host a let’s-reform-the-bigot-next-door dinner. There are invitations to send, flowers to arrange, and yes, cakes to order. Second of all, would Brooks be advocating neighbourly outreach in place of legal intervention if the wronged party was an interracial couple, or even for that matter, a Jewish one.

A person like Phillips, who is willing to fight a lengthy court battle and collect donations from like-minded Americans to defend his right to refuse a service to gays, is not going to shed his prejudice as the result of an evening of queer hospitality. This doesn’t mean that reaching out, i.e. “meeting people where they’re at” as the cliché goes, isn’t a valuable approach to “changing hearts and minds.”

I think meeting people where they’re at and changing hearts and minds is important work. But it’s exhausting work. And furthermore, it’s activism. It’s not the work of a couple planning a wedding.

The year, for God’s sake, is 2017, not 1997, or even 2007. People have had quite a while to get used to the idea of gay marriage and its fallout – that is, none. If you don’t want to bake wedding cakes for gays, don’t bake wedding cakes. If you don’t want to sell something to gay people, or Black people, or Jewish people, sell nothing.

But what’s really insidious, under the reasonable wistfulness of Brooks’s column, is the suggestion that what transpired at Masterpiece Cakeshop was a misunderstanding between people of otherwise good will, who could and should have worked out their differences among themselves.

But there were not two parties of equivalent good will involved. One party thought they should be treated the same as everyone else. The other party thought not. This is why a small altercation involving three people and a cake should be debated in the supreme court, as opposed to somebody’s living room or bakery, just as same sex marriage itself should be debated in a court, rather than decided by popular vote: to protect minorities from the whims of their neighbours.

That’s reasonable.

Emma Teitel is a national affairs columnist.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Alberta has 3,651 active cases of COVID-19. (File photo)
432 new COVID cases sets another record Friday

Central zone holds steady at 126 active cases

A Red Deer County man was arrested for drug possession by Innisfail RCMP on April 19. (File photo by Advocate staff)
Property crime and drugs top Red Deer RCMP priorities in new plan

2020-2022 Policing Priorities Plan going to city council on Monday

RCMP estimate about 500 people gathered on the weekend near Garrington Bridge along the Red Deer River, in a July 28, 2020 story. (File photo by Advocate staff)
Second person charged for alleged assault at anti-racism rally in Red Deer

A second person is facing charges following an alleged assault during an… Continue reading

Alberta Union of Provincial Employees vice-president Bonnie Gustola criticized provincial government layoffs at a rally that drew more than 80 people at City Hall Park on Friday.
Photo by PAUL COWLEY/Advocate staff
More than 80 rally in Red Deer against government health, education cutbacks

Rally at City Hall Park organized by the Council for Canadians

The higher the education level, the higher the income of some 1.3 million post-secondary graduates surveyed between 2010 and 2015, with master's degrees paying off the most. But the findings also suggest that gender and timing matter. (Black Press Media File).
2020 high school grads won’t get their ceremony

Decision announced by Lindsay Thurber and Hunting Hills high schools, and Gateway Christian School

B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson, B.C. NDP leader John Horgan and B.C. Greens leader Sonia Furstenau. (Black Press Media)
VIDEO: One day until B.C. voters go to the polls in snap election defined by pandemic

NDP Leader John Horgan’s decision to call an election comes more than a year ahead of schedule and during a pandemic

Alice Kolisnyk, deputy director of the Red Deer Food Bank, says the agency expects an increase in demand as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. Every new subscription to the Red Deer Advocate includes a $50 donation to the food bank. (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)
Support the food bank with a subscription to the Red Deer Advocate

The community’s most vulnerable members are always in need of a hand,… Continue reading

New voluntary measures, including the encouragement of more mask wearing, have been introduced in the Edmonton health zone. “Red Deer has been very fortunate to have relatively low case numbers . . . relative to the rest of the province and the country,” says Mayor Tara Veer. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
POLL: Should Alberta have stricter rules to help prevent the spread of COVID-19?

Should Alberta have stricter rules to help prevent the spread of COVID-19?… Continue reading

Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Walker Buehler throws against the Tampa Bay Rays during the first inning in Game 3 of the baseball World Series Friday, Oct. 23, 2020, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
Buehler leads Dodgers over Rays 6-2 for 2-1 Series lead

Buehler leads Dodgers over Rays 6-2 for 2-1 Series lead

Inter Miami defender Ben Sweat, left, and Montreal Impact attacker Maximiliano Urruti fight for the ball during their MLS soccer match, Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020, at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, NJ. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Eduardo Munoz Alvarez
Rested Montreal Impact looking to collect points with big finish to regular season

Rested Montreal Impact looking to collect points with big finish to regular season

Mariah Bell of the United States, competes during women's short program in the International Skating Union Grand Prix of Figure Skating Series, Friday, Oct. 23, 2020, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/David Becker)
Nathan Chen dominates again in Skate America short program

Nathan Chen dominates again in Skate America short program

Lanto Griffin putts on the ninth hole during the second round of the Zozo Championship golf tournament Friday, Oct. 23, 2020, in Thousand Oaks, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
Thomas has a fast start for a 65 and a 1-shot lead at Zozo

Thomas has a fast start for a 65 and a 1-shot lead at Zozo

Mariah Bell of the United States, competes during women's short program in the International Skating Union Grand Prix of Figure Skating Series, Friday, Oct. 23, 2020, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/David Becker)
Bell, Tennell go 1-2 in Skate America short program

Bell, Tennell go 1-2 in Skate America short program

Team Saskatchewan skip Matt Dunstone flips his broom in frustration following a shot as they take on Team Alberta in the playoffs at the Brier in Kingston, Ont., on Saturday, March 7, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Team Matt Dunstone considers relocation due to restrictions in Saskatchewan

Team Matt Dunstone considers relocation due to restrictions in Saskatchewan

Most Read