Colorado Lawmakers File Amicus Brief in Masterpiece Cakeshop Case

Outcome Could Determine Whether Public Accommodations Can Discriminate Against Marginalized Groups

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Washington, D.C.-, November 3, 2017 | comments

Washington, D.C. – Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet, along with Colorado U.S. Representatives Diana DeGette, Ed Perlmutter, and Jared Polis, are among 211 Members of Congress who this week filed an Amicus Brief in the case Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, which will be heard before the U.S. Supreme Court on December 5.

The brief is in support of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, which enforces the state’s anti-discrimination statute providing civil rights protections for historically marginalized groups, including the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) community. A ruling against the Commission could create a “license to discriminate,” allowing businesses to deny service to Americans, including LGBTQ people.

“In signing this brief, we are sending a clear signal that every American – regardless of race, color, sexual orientation, or gender – should be guaranteed freedom from discrimination in all aspects of their lives,” Bennet said.  “We are hopeful that the Supreme Court will affirm this principle and set an important anti-discrimination precedent.”

“I’m honored to join 210 of my House and Senate colleagues in signing this brief, which helps ensure that businesses in Colorado and across America are open to all,” DeGette said. “LGBTQ Americans deserve the full protection of the law; this case is about that, and more. Our brief affirms freedom from discrimination for all people in our society. This case isn’t about wedding cakes, just as it wasn’t about water fountains half a century ago.”

“If a business is open to the public, it should be open to everyone regardless of their sexual orientation or who they love,” Perlmutter said. “Every American has the right to be treated fairly and equally, and should have the freedom to live the life they want. I’m proud to sign on to this amicus brief and support other legislation to ensure equal rights for all Americans.”

“It’s a basic principle: discrimination of any kind is wrong in a public accommodation,” Polis said. “We must not chip away at anti-discrimination protections under law.  The liberty of all Americans, not just LGBTQ Americans, is at stake.”

In 2012, Charlie Craig and David Mullins were denied a wedding cake by Masterpiece Cakeshop because of their sexual orientation. The shop’s owner, Jack Phillips, cited religious objections to same-sex marriage as a justification for his refusal. The Colorado Civil Rights Commission ruled that the shop could not lawfully deny services to individuals based on their sexual orientation under the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act and required the shop to provide staff training and issue reports on steps taken to come into compliance with the ruling. Masterpiece Cakeshop appealed the ruling, which was eventually upheld by the Colorado Supreme Court. The shop appealed the decision, and the United States Supreme Court granted certiorari. The U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on December 5th.  If the court finds that a business owner’s religious conviction or expressive intent trumps civil rights laws, it could undermine local, state, and federal civil rights laws that prohibit discrimination in accessing public accommodations.

In the friend-of-the-court brief, 36 Senators and 175 House members urged the Supreme Court to affirm the Colorado Civil Rights Commission’s initial decision to require Masterpiece Cakeshop to comply with the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act. The brief considers the history of federal nondiscrimination laws, such as Title II of the Civil Rights Act and Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and how rulings regarding those statutes apply to the pending case. Signers warned that the outcome of the case could have broad implications for the civil rights of groups that already face discrimination and that creating exemptions to public accommodations laws – in this case based on a business’ arguably expressive conduct or religious belief – would undermine the government’s interest in prohibiting discrimination against minority groups.

The brief is supported by One Colorado, Human Rights Campaign, the American Civil Liberties Union, Bend the Arc Jewish Action, GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders (GLAD),  Lambda Legal, NAACP Legal Defense Fund, National Center for Lesbian Rights, National Center for Transgender Equality, National Employment Law Project, National LGBTQ Task Force, National Women’s Law Center, People for the American Way Foundation, SAGE, Transgender Law Center, Equality California, Equality Delaware, Equality Florida, Equality New Mexico, Equality North Carolina, and Garden State Equality.

A full version of the brief is available HERE.

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