Colorado baker loses appeal over refusal to make gender transition cake

by Reuters
Friday, 27 January 2023 10:49 GMT

A person walks in front of the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, U.S. January 17, 2023. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

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A Colorado baker refused to make cakes celebrating a same-sex wedding and a gender transition

(Reuters) - A Colorado baker who had won a narrow U.S. Supreme Court victory over his refusal to make a wedding cake for a gay couple on Thursday lost his appeal of a ruling in a separate case that he violated a state anti-discrimination law by not making a cake to celebrate a gender transition.

The Colorado Court of Appeals agreed with a trial judge that Masterpiece Cakeshop and the bakery's owner, Jack Phillips, violated Autumn Scardina's rights by denying her service because of her identity as a transgender woman.

Lawyers for the baker, who was fined $500, had argued that he refused service based on his sincere Christian beliefs and that forcing him to make a cake celebrating a gender transition would violate his free speech rights under the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment.

But Judge Timothy Schutz, writing for the three-judge panel, said the pink cake with blue frosting Scardina requested expressed no message or imagery with any inherent meaning that would violate his rights.

"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," Schutz wrote.

The court also rejected Phillips' procedural arguments that Scardina failed to exhaust her administrative remedies and that her lawsuit was rendered moot when he offered to pay her $500.01 while still denying that he had violated Colorado law.

Phillips' lawyers vowed a further appeal.

"No one should be forced to express a message that violates their core beliefs," Jake Warner, his lawyer at the conservative Christian legal group Alliance Defending Freedom, said in a statement.

John McHugh, a lawyer for Scardina at Fennemore Craig, in a statement called the ruling "a victory not just for Ms. Scardina and the greater LGBT community, but for all Coloradans, who can take comfort that our laws apply equally to everyone."

Scardina, an attorney, tried to order her cake the same day the U.S. Supreme Court in 2017 agreed to hear Phillips’ challenge to the Colorado Civil Rights Commission's conclusion he discriminated against a gay couple for whom he had refused to make a wedding cake.

The Supreme Court in 2018 ruled in Phillips' favor but on narrow grounds that stopped short of creating a free speech exemption to anti-discrimination laws, finding the commission was hostile toward Phillips’ Christian beliefs.

The 6-3 conservative majority court in December heard arguments in a similar case involving Alliance Defending Freedom client Lorie Smith, a Christian web designer who argues she has a right to refuse to provide services for same-sex marriages.

The case is Scardina v. Masterpiece, Colorado Court of Appeals, No. 21CA1142.

For Scardina: John McHugh of Fennemore Craig

For Masterpiece: Jake Warner of Alliance Defending Freedom

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