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The Colorado baker’s case: it’s not about gay rights

Pay attention to the language used in headlines about this week’s crucial argument before the Supreme Court. Reuters said it was a “gay wedding case.” The New York Times called it a gay rights case.” CNN reported a “same-sex marriage case.” And so on.

All inaccurate. This case was not about gay rights or same-sex marriage.

True, the legal case emerged from a disagreement over same-sex marriage. But the actual legal issues presented to the Supreme Court did not involve the rights of homosexuals. A homosexual couple—whose union was already recognized legally as a marriage, so that was never an issue—wanted to celebrate in Colorado. That was no problem. They were allowed to do so; there was no legal obstacle. They wanted a cake for their celebration. Again: no problem, no legal obstacle. But they wanted to force a particular baker to make the cake, and he declined.

This case does not test the rights of the homosexual couple. It tests the rights of the reluctant baker.

Since the baker cited his religious beliefs to explain his decision, you might say that this is a religious-freedom case, or a freedom-of-conscience case. Or, taking a broader view of the implications, you might call it a freedom-of-expression case. From a broader perspective still, the case involves the right of a “little guy”—the baker—against the power of the state agencies that have, in their regulatory decisions, punished him for his views.

If you cherish individual freedom and civil liberties, you must sympathize with the baker in this case. Which makes it all the more grotesque that the American Civil Liberties Union is representing the plaintiffs: the couple that wants to force a man to act against his conscience.