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Colorado Supreme Court hears arguments in transgender cake case

The cases involves Jack Phillips, a baker who previously refused in 2012 to bake a cake for a gay couple’s wedding.
Baker Jack Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop
Posted at 5:11 PM, Jun 18, 2024

The Colorado Supreme Court heard arguments on Tuesday in a lawsuit against a Christian baker who refused to make a cake celebrating a gender transition, one of three such cases from the state that have pitted LGBTQ+ civil rights against First Amendment rights.

Two cases have centered on baker Jack Phillips, who in 2012 refused to bake a cake for a gay couple's wedding. Phillips partially prevailed before the U.S. Supreme Court in that case in 2018.

Phillips was later sued by Autumn Scardina, a transgender woman, after Phillips and his suburban Denver bakery refused to make a pink cake with blue frosting for her birthday that also celebrated her gender transition.

Scardina, an attorney, said she brought the lawsuit to “challenge the veracity” of Phillips’ statements that he would serve LGBTQ+ customers.

Phillips' attorney said his client will bake a cake for any customer as long as the message doesn't clash with his beliefs.

He added that if Phillips hadn't been told that the cake was for a gender transition, the baker would have made the cake.

But Scardina's attorney's argued that it's not about the message, but the people he is refusing to serve.

The case involves the state’s anti-discrimination law against refusing to provide services based on protected characteristics such as race, religion or sexual orientation.

The Colorado Court of Appeals previously sided with Scardina, ruling that the cake — on which Scardina did not request any writing — was not a form of speech.

The appeals court noted that Phillips’ shop initially agreed to make the cake but then refused after Scardina explained she was going to use it to celebrate her gender transition, with the blue exterior and pink interior reflecting her male-to-female transition.

“We conclude that creating a pink cake with blue frosting is not inherently expressive and any message or symbolism it provides to an observer would not be attributed to the baker,” read the unanimous ruling by the three-judge appeals court in 2023.

The court also found that the anti-discrimination law did not violate business owners’ right to practice or express their religion.

Phillips has maintained that the cakes he creates are a form of speech protected under the First Amendment.

Another recent case in Colorado centers on freedom of speech and LGBTQ+ rights. Last summer, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of a Colorado graphic artist who didn’t want to design wedding websites for same-sex couples.

Graphic artist Lorie Smith, who like Phillips is represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom, challenged the same state law. The court’s conservative majority said forcing her to create websites for same-sex weddings would violate her free-speech rights.

Both sides in the dispute over Scardina’s cake order think the new U.S. Supreme Court ruling will bolster their arguments.