Lambda Legal to High Court: Religious License to Discriminate Harms LGBT People from Cradle to Grave

NEW YORK, NY, Oct. 30, 2017 –  Lambda Legal, joined by Family Equality Council and 11 other organizations, today submitted a friend-of-the-court brief to the U.S. Supreme Court in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission detailing the multiple everyday experiences of hundreds of LGBT individuals, same-sex couples and their families who have faced discrimination.

At stake in Masterpiece Cakeshop is the claim by a Colorado baker that requiring him to serve LGBT customers violates his religious freedom and free speech rights. The brief marshals a broad range of examples drawn from Lambda Legal cases and calls to the Lambda Legal Help Desk and Family Equality Council that demonstrate the breadth of the harm already being experienced daily by LGBT people. Further, these examples serve as a warning of how much worse that second-class status LGBT people already experience could become if such discrimination were immunized from remedy through religious or free speech exemptions like the ones sought in in this case.

“This is not about a cake: it’s about licensing cradle-to-grave discrimination against LGBT people,” Lambda Legal CEO Rachel B. Tiven said. “It isn’t just cake bakers and wedding photographers: it happens when we have no other options.  LGBT people are denied service by tow truck operators at the side of the road, by repairmen in our homes, and by homeless shelters in our time of greatest need. Doctors refuse to care for us, and funeral homes break their contracts at moments of terrible loss, just because we are gay or transgender. In everyday life, we are rejected: post office clerks refuse to serve us, tax preparers won’t do our taxes.  This isn’t religion, it’s discrimination.

“Our children are hurt because their parents are seen as less-than,” Tiven added. “We are excluded from childbirth classes because our presence might make other people uncomfortable.  Pediatricians refuse to care for our children because two moms can’t be ‘the real parents.’  Our children are rejected from nursery schools and day care centers because they have two dads or two moms.  This discrimination is pervasive. Lambda Legal hears these stories from all over the country: in southern states and northern, in big cities and small towns.  It isn’t about a cake, and it isn’t about religion. It’s about rejection.”

Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission is the appeal of a 2012 case brought by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) against a Denver-based bakery on behalf of David Mullins and Charlie Craig, a gay couple who sought to purchase a cake for their wedding reception. Masterpiece Cakeshop owner Jack Phillips declined to bake a cake for Mullins and Craig, citing his religious beliefs. The couple complained to the Colorado Civil Rights Division, which ruled that Masterpiece Cakeshop had violated Colorado’s nondiscrimination statute. After losing multiple appeals in the Colorado state system, Phillips and his lawyers from Alliance Defending Freedom asked the U.S. Supreme Court to grant review, which it did on June 26. The Supreme Court has scheduled oral argument in the case for Dec. 5, 2017.

“We and the Family Equality Council have over the years received more than a thousand reports from across the country detailing discrimination in wide-ranging public accommodations contexts,” said Jennifer C. Pizer, Lambda Legal Senior Counsel and Law & Policy Director. “These include, for example, the lesbian couple denied infertility treatment by a San Diego-area OB/GYN practice in 1999, an Iowa wedding venue that refused to rent event space to a gay couple for their wedding in 2013, and a New Jersey hospital that refused to perform a routine hysterectomy for a transgender man in January. This is why nondiscrimination laws like Colorado’s are so important, so that people can live their lives without fearing that, at any moment, they may be turned away or verbally abused just for who they are.”

“LGBT parents and their children suffer real harm due to discrimination every day,” said Shelbi Day, Senior Policy Counsel at Family Equality Council. “Through the voices of LGBT individuals and their loved ones, this brief demonstrates the real-life harm that results from discrimination and the danger of allowing any exception to non-discrimination protections.”

The other organizations joining Lambda Legal and the Family Equality Council on the amicus brief are: American Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO; Equality California; Equality Federation; The LGBT Bar Association of Greater New York; Mazzoni Center; National Center for Transgender Equality; National Education Association; PFLAG National; PROMO; The Trevor Project; and, Whitman-Walker Health.

Read the brief here: https://www.lambdalegal.org/in-court/legal-docs/us_masterpiece-cakes_20171030_amicus-brief

Read about Lambda Legal’s work combatting religious exemptions here: https://www.lambdalegal.org/blog/topic/religious-exemptions

Authoring the amicus brief for Lambda Legal were Jennifer C. Pizer and Nancy C. Marcus, joined by Shelbi Day and Denise Brogan-Kator of the Family Equality Council.

Lambda Legal is a national organization committed to achieving full recognition of the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender people and everyone living with HIV through impact litigation, education and public policy work.

Family Equality Council advances legal and lived equality for LGBTQ families, and for those who wish to form them, through building community, changing hearts and minds, and driving policy change. Family Equality Council believes every LGBTQ person should have the right and opportunity to form and sustain a loving family, regardless of who they are or where they live. Learn more at familyequality.org.