The Supreme Court appeared divided down the middle Tuesday over a Colorado baker’s refusal to design a wedding cake for a same-sex couple, the latest test in the continuing legal battle between gay rights and religious expression.
In one of the most animated oral arguments the high court has held, justices on both sides peppered four lawyers with questions to illustrate how their decision might affect other merchants, such as chefs and florists, and other minority groups, such as Catholics and African Americans.
While the court’s liberal justices said the “cake artist” likely cannot refuse to serve gay couples, and conservative justices said his religious and free speech rights should be respected, Justice Anthony Kennedy once again was the man in the middle.
Kennedy suggested that Jack Phillips’ refusal to bake cakes for same-sex weddings might mean he could post a sign that says, “We do not bake cakes for gay weddings.” That, he said, could be seen as “an affront to the gay community.”
But Kennedy also accused Colorado officials of exhibiting a “hostility to religion.”
“Tolerance is essential in a free society,” Kennedy said. “It seems to me that the state in its position here has been neither tolerant nor respectful of Mr. Phillips’ religious beliefs.”