A Teaspoon of Dogma Spoils the Cake

A Teaspoon of Dogma Spoils the Cake

Q: When is a cake more than a cake?
A: Never.

The Supreme Court is set to hear arguments in the case against a Colorado baker who refused to design a wedding cake for a gay couple. The baker, Jack Phillips, says he isn’t a bigot and that he’d be happy to sell the couple brownies or cookies or some other baked goods, but he can’t sell them a wedding cake because his religious beliefs lead him to think marriage between two men is a sin.

Colorado courts have already ruled against Phillips. In Colorado, if you sell wedding cakes to the general public, you can’t refuse to sell a wedding cake to a couple for an arbitrary reason. And Phillip’s reasoning is arbitrary. Phillips has no way of knowing the beliefs of any of his customers. He has surely designed and sold wedding cakes to all sorts of couples—Christian couples, Muslim couples, pagan couples, couples who mostly worship their dogs. He can’t probe the belief system of every couple who comes into his shop.

I know Phillips and his attorneys maintain that his wedding cakes are not merely baked goods, that they rise to the level of art. And an artist cannot be compelled to create something he doesn’t want to create. I would agree that no baker or cake designer should be compelled to create a cake he finds offensive. He might, for example, refuse to make a wedding cake with black roses and a satanic symbol on top. He might refuse to pipe out a message containing curse words. Loads of bakers don’t deal in wedding toppers for this very reason. They make the cake; you handle the topper. But a wedding cake for two men is no different than a wedding cake for a man and a woman. Phillips didn’t refuse to make a cake; he refused to sell a cake to a particular customer based on sexual orientation. That’s a big distinction. That’s discrimination.

If Phillips’ religious beliefs are so strong that he cannot provide a tiered white cake for someone whose beliefs are contrary to his own, he should get out of the wedding cake business altogether. He should stick to those morally neutral brownies and cookies.

Let’s be real, neither the cake nor the person who bakes it can sanction or deny the legitimacy of any wedding. The most we can ask of a cake is that it look pretty and taste delicious. The moral beliefs of the baker are not stirred into the batter along with the flour and sugar, they are not piped into the buttercream. A cake is not a religious symbol. And a wedding is not, necessarily, a religious ceremony. If a baker only wants to design cakes for couples whose beliefs match his own, he is free to do so. Anyone can make wedding cakes for friends and family. But you can’t open up a retail shop that claims to serve the public and then refuse to serve some portion of the public based on your own narrow belief system. You can’t deny your goods and services to anyone based on disability, race, creed, color, sex, sexual orientation, religion, age, national origin, or ancestry. The law—in Colorado, at least—is quite clear.

To quote a good friend, “It’s just baked goods, ladies! It’s just baked goods.”

Let’s hope the Supreme Court agrees.

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Tiffany Quay Tyson

THE PAST IS NEVER, a southern gothic novel steeped in local lore, is available now. The Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance deemed it an Okra Pick. Tyson's debut novel THREE RIVERS was a finalist for both the Colorado Book Award for Literary Fiction and the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters Award for Fiction. She was born and raised in Jackson, Mississippi and now lives, writes, and teaches in Denver, Colorado.
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