Denise Wixey Coulter, one of the owners of Wixey Bakery in Toledo, routinely receives calls from people ordering baked goods and customized cakes from the family-owned store.
But one call she received was out of the ordinary — a man called to ask if the bakery made cakes for gay couples.
“I was surprised that that’s a phone call you’d have to make,” she said. “Wixey Bakery would never refuse a cake to anyone.”
Still, on the federal level, whether a business can refuse to provide customized services to same-sex couples based on the business owner’s religious beliefs is still up for debate.
On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of Colorado baker Jack Phillips, who refused to bake a customized cake for a same-sex wedding. The court’s 7-2 decision leaves the fundamental question unanswered — whether or not the First Amendment protects Mr. Phillips’ right to refuse a cake for a same-sex wedding on the basis of religious beliefs.
In Toledo, Wixey Bakery’s stance on serving LGBT customers is apparently the norm. During her tenure that began in March, Analese Alvarez, executive director of Equality Toledo, said she has not had to deal with issues related to LGBT discrimination. She added that she had only heard of one incidence of a business discriminating against members in the past. In that particular incident, when a Take the Cake owner refused to bake a lesbian’s birthday cake in 2016, the business received widespread backlash from many in the Toledo community.
According to Peter Shane, an Ohio State University law professor, the court’s decision only guarantees that a business owner who declined to perform a service for a same-sex couple on the basis of religion is entitled to a fair hearing, in which his or her rights of religious exercise are taken seriously. The case decision doesn’t indicate that the owner will necessarily win the case. In fact, Mr. Shane highlighted the significance of the majority opinion’s explicit affirmation of the right to equality of gay and lesbian Americans.
The fact that Justice Kennedy authored the opinion is an indicator itself of the majority opinion’s pro-LGBT stance, according to Mr. Shane, as he often writes the opinions that are “most generous and welcoming in terms of articulating gay rights.” There is no retreat from that generous attitude in this opinion either, he said.
“This opinion might be taken as a signal from the LGBT community that the Supreme Court is not abandoning them,” Mr. Shane said.
Ms. Alvarez was initially surprised by the decision because initial reports seemed to imply that Mr. Phillips’ refusal of service was protected under the constitution’s First Amendment. But after learning more information about the nuances of the decision, she said she realized that “in a backward way” the Supreme Court had actually ruled in favor of anti-discrimination laws.
Still, Ms. Alvarez and Equality Toledo want to make sure that no misinformation is spread regarding the court decision. On Monday evening, Equality Toledo, Equality Ohio, and ACLU of Ohio hosted an event, “Supreme Court Decided: Now What?” Ms. Alvarez reaffirmed the group’s commitment to holding public businesses to the protection standard set by Toledo in its 1998 non-discrimination ordinance.
Laura Geisler, a soon-to-be owner of Cake Arts Bakery and Supplies in Toledo, has every intention of meeting that standard.
“Cakes make people happy, and we’ll be happy to make a cake for anyone who requests it,” she said. “As long as our schedule allows.”
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