Supreme Court hears arguments on gay wedding cake case

LAKEWOOD, Colo. (KKTV) - A case involving a Colorado cake shop owner who refused to make a wedding case for a gay couple is shaping into a landmark case.

Masterpiece Cake Shop owner Jack Phillips says he had the right to turn the couple down because of his religious beliefs.

Charlie Craig and David Mullins, however, say the issue isn't about religion, it's about discrimination.

After five years, oral arguments in the case finally commenced in front of the Supreme Court Tuesday.

It's been a long road since July 2012 when the couple first approached the Lakewood shop for their wedding cake and were turned down.

Phillips told sister station KCNC at the time that he has no animosity towards the gay community and was simply refusing because he doesn't support gay marriage.

"If gays come in and want to order birthday cakes or any cakes for any occasion, graduations or whatever, I have no prejudice against that whatsoever. It's just the wedding cake, not the people, not their lifestyle," Phillips said then.

But the couple believed he was discriminating against them and filed a complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, citing a state law that bars discrimination based on sexual orientation.

So far, the courts have sided with the couple.

The case could have far-reaching implications regardless of which side wins. Those siding with Phillips fear a loss would force business owners to choose between their own beliefs and making a living.

“American citizens should not be compelled to create expression or to say things that are deeply at odds with their beliefs,” said Phillips attorney Nicole Martin.

Supporters of Craig and Mullins say if the court favors Phillips, it would give businesses open season to deny service to anyone they wanted and shield the decision behind religious liberty.

"It is not hard to imagine the claims that will follow this case: A jeweler may argue that his religion forbids him from selling wedding rings to an interfaith couple; a shop owner may refuse service to women customers to avoid contact prohibited by his religion,” read a statement by attorneys for the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, obtained by the Denver Post.

It's difficult to read which way the conservative-leaning court will go. The high court ruled 5-4 in favor of legalizing gay marriage in 2015. It also voted 5-4 in favor of Hobby Lobby in the 2014 Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores case. That ruling allowed closely-held for-profit corporations exemption from a regulation owners objected to on religious grounds.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, the probable swing vote in Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, voted with the majority in both cases. Tuesday, he gave little away concerning which way he could lean, voicing reservations about both sides.

He stated he was concerned a decision in favor of Phillips would allow other bakers to effectively boycott gay marriage.

But he said Colorado wasn't "tolerant or respectful" of Phillips' religious beliefs.