Autumn Scardina, a transgender lawyer and activist, says she ordered a birthday cake from Jack Phillips’ Masterpiece Cakeshop in 2017. She asked for it to be blue on the outside and pink on the inside, in celebration of her gender transition. The bakery refused.
This set off a four-year chain of lawsuits and countersuits that finally led to Ms Scardina and Mr Phillips facing each other in virtual court on Monday. Ms Scardina’s lawyers said she was discriminated against. Mr Phillips’ lawyers said he could not bake a cake he disagreed with.
“The message would be that he agrees that a gender transition is something to be celebrated,” said Sean Gates, a lawyer for Mr Phillips, AP News reported.
Mr Phillips has been in a similar position before. In 2012, he refused to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple, citing his Christian beliefs. The couple sued, and the case went all the way to the Supreme Court, which in 2018 ruled narrowly in Mr Phillips’ favour – but did not say whether businesses in general had a right to refuse service to LGBT+ Americans.
On Monday, Ms Scardina used Mr Phillips’ own words in that case against him. In the Supreme Court case, she argued, Mr Phillips had said he objected to baking the wedding cake only because it was for a religious ceremony, and therefore conflicted with his faith. Now Ms Scardina had requested a cake for her birthday, something that had nothing to do with religion, and Mr Phillips still refused.
Ms Scardina’s lawyer, Paula Greisen, asked if she had ordered the cake as a trap for Mr Phillips.
“It was more of calling someone’s bluff,” Ms Scardina replied.
It’s been a long and winding road from Ms Scardina’s initial cake request to this moment. After Masterpiece Cakeshop first refused her, she filed a complaint through the Colorado Civil Rights Commission in 2018, which agreed to take her case. Then Mr Phillips countersued, filing a federal lawsuit against the state of Colorado. Since the Commission had sued him once before, in the Supreme Court case, he argued that it was harassing him.
In 2019, both sides dropped their cases. In a settlement, Mr Phillips and the state decided it was in neither of their best interests to continue the lawsuits, but allowed for Ms Scardina to sue on her own if she wished. She did.
Because the case has now had so many iterations, Mr Phillips’ lawyers are arguing that enough is enough.
“At some point, your honour, this must stop,” Jake Warner, a lawyer for the baker, said at a video hearing last year. “Mr Phillips just wants to get back to his life and make cakes.”
But Ms Scardina and her team are pressing onward.
“We simply want the law to be enforced,” Ms Greisen told Colorado Public Radio. “Because if not, you allow a business to send a message – ‘go ahead, refuse service to these people, it’s OK’ – when the citizens of Colorado have said it’s not.”
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