At the heart of the Supreme Court’s ruling Monday in a case involving LGBTQ rights, a Colorado baker, free speech and religious freedom was a worthy message: Let’s hear each other out.
The 7-2 decision, in which a couple of more liberal justices sided with the court’s conservative majority, did not set a broad precedent for other cases involving gay rights, nor were any laws prohibiting discrimination eroded.
On the contrary, the court went out of its way to reaffirm its support for gay rights, as it should have.
The court also made clear that it might rule differently — against a plaintiff making a religious freedom argument to justify discrimination against gay people — if and when similar cases come before the court. And you can bet such cases will come.
Instead, the court said a state commission didn’t fully and fairly consider both sides of the issue. Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy said the Colorado Civil Rights Commission had a “clear and impermissible hostility” toward the views of Jack Phillips, who in 2012 declined to bake a custom wedding cake for a gay couple based on his religious beliefs.
Phillips, Kennedy wrote, deserved a “neutral and respectful” hearing, and he didn’t get it.
Kennedy pointed to a commissioner who said “freedom of religion and religion has been used to justify all kinds of discrimination throughout history, whether it be slavery, whether it be the Holocaust.” The justice also objected to the commissioner’s description of “a man’s faith as ‘one of the most despicable pieces of rhetoric that people can use.’ ”
We are strong defenders of LGBTQ rights, and we think the baker was wrong. Gay couples deserve every right enjoyed by all other Americans and the baker should have made the cake.
But the court’s decision on Monday was not about ultimate right and wrong. It was about process. It was about demanding that we give the other side a fair hearing, even when we know exactly where we stand.
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