By Brian Maass
WASHINGTON (CBS4) – The United States Supreme Court on Tuesday heard oral arguments in Colorado’s highly charged Masterpiece cake shop case with key Justice Anthony Kennedy confounding courtroom observers by seeming to show sympathy for both sides at various times.
The closely watched case stems from an incident in 2012 when Lakewood baker Jack Phillips refused to design a wedding cake for same sex couple Charlie Craig and David Mullins, leading the gay couple to say Phillips discriminated against them and violated their civil rights.
Phillips has argued he would not design a custom cake for a same sex couple as it violates his religious beliefs.
“Like many other creative professionals,” said Phillips, “I don’t create messages that conflict with my conscience.”
In a packed courtroom, Justices probed and prodded both sides about their legal arguments.
Justices — like Elena Kagan — wondered aloud if a ruling in favor of the baker would clear the way for broader discrimination from hairstylists, chefs and others who considered themselves “artists.”
Questioning if a custom made cake can even be considered an expression of free speech, Kagan noted, “In the end, its only purpose is to be eaten.”
But most of the focus was on statements made by Justice Anthony Kennedy, who is viewed as the pivotal vote in the case.
Kennedy has been a driving force on the case in gay rights cases. He raised eyebrows when he expressed sympathy for Phillips’ position.
“Tolerance is essential in society,” said Kennedy, who then said the Colorado Civil Rights Commission has not been tolerant or respectful of Phillips religion.
Following the court hearing, Mullins told CBS4 “This is about the right of people to receive equal treatment and not be turned away for who they are and who they love.”
It will likely be June before the Supreme Court issues its decision in the case of Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission.