TLDEF: Importance of Anti-Discrimination Laws Following Supreme Court Ruling in Masterpiece Cakeshop Case

Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund today restated the strong need for anti-bias protections in response to the Supreme Court’s narrow ruling in favour of a Denver bakery owner’s challenge to Colorado’s anti-discrimination law.

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The law prohibits discrimination in places of public accommodation on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression, among other protected classes such as race, creed, and sex. The bakery owner was cited and fined for violating this statute because he refused to sell a wedding cake to a same-sex couple, Charlie Craig and David Mullins, based on his objections to same-sex marriage. Craig and Mullins are represented in Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission by the American Civil Liberties Union which today reacted to this decision, stating in part:

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“The Supreme Court today reaffirmed the core principle that businesses open to the public must be open to all… The court did not accept arguments that would have turned back the clock on equality by making our basic civil rights protections unenforceable, but reversed this case based on concerns specific to the facts here.”

“TLDEF joins the ACLU in spotlighting the fact that the Supreme Court did not change the long-standing rule that businesses open to the public must be open to all,” said TLDEF Senior Staff Attorney Donna Levinsohn. “We are disheartened that the court effectively excused the bakery’s discrimination, but it did so only out of procedural concerns specific to this case. The court did not give businesses a constitutional right to discriminate that the bakery and the Trump administration sought here. Indeed, if the bakery continues to discriminate in the future against same-sex couples, nothing in this decision would immunise it from the consequences, or preclude future action against it. ”

In December TLDEF filed an amicus or “friend of the court” brief to the United States Supreme Court in this case highlighting the immense need for public accommodations laws that protect more than two million people in our nation who identify as transgender. The brief, filed in collaboration with the law firm Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler LLP, focused on the pervasive discrimination confronting transgender people in places of public accommodation. Using the accounts of transgender individuals who have been harassed or denied service in retail stores, restaurants, and other places that hold themselves open to the public, the brief illustrated the serious harm that occurs when discrimination is allowed to pervade everyday life.

“While today’s Supreme Court ruling affirms the validity of non-discrimination laws, it does not address the discrimination that millions of Americans still face, particularly transgender Americans,” Levinsohn said. “In more than half the country, state laws do not explicitly protect LGBT Americans from discrimination in stores and restaurants, in the workplace, or in housing. That’s why we are joining a growing chorus of business owners, civil rights advocates, religious leaders, health organizations, labor groups, LGBT people and our friends, families and allies and calling on Congress to pass the Equality Act to create one set of rules for everyone,” said said.

Read TLDEF’s Amicus Brief in Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission here.

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