The California Civil Rights Department has submitted an appeal to challenge the decision made by a Kern County Superior Court judge who ruled that Tastries Bakery has a free speech right to refuse to make a cake to celebrate same-sex marriage.
Cathy Miller is the owner of Tastries, a bakery located in Bakersfield, California. In 2017, she was approached by a same-sex couple seeking a custom wedding cake for their vow renewal ceremony. However, Miller declined the request and directed the couple to an alternative baker who was willing to fulfill their order. When questioned about her refusal to create the cake, Miller explained that the cake’s message conflicted with her Christian faith.
In October 2022, Judge Eric Bradshaw of the Superior Court of California in Kern County determined that there was no discrimination in this case since Miller directed the couple to another bakery. He cited First Amendment protection for the cake, considering it an expression of free speech.
“The Constitution looks beyond written or spoken words as mediums of expression, and the cases have recognized that the First Amendment shields acts such as saluting a flag (and refusing to do so), wearing an armband to protest a war, displaying a red flag, and even marching, walking or parading in uniforms displaying the swastika,” wrote the judge in his decision.
“The evidence affirmatively showed that defendants’ wedding cakes are pure speech, designed and intended – genuinely and primarily – as an artistic expression of support for a man and a woman united in the ‘sacrament’ of marriage, and a collaboration with them in the celebration of their marriage,” he continued.
Now, the California Civil Rights Department (CRD) is contesting the verdict, asserting that the judge overlooked compelling proof of deliberate discrimination. The state argues that referring customers to another entity amounts to a failure to deliver equal service. “A business’s refusal to provide gay and lesbian couples the same service that is offered to heterosexual couples is discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation regardless of the underlying rationale for the discriminatory conduct,” wrote the CRD.
Additionally, the appeal argues that the cake does not merit First Amendment protection due to its pre-designed, unadorned, and low-cost nature. During a phone interview, however, Miller discussed the amount of effort involved in customizing a cake, even when it appears simple.
“I sit down with the customers and we spend an hour together,” she said. After the couple exchanges vows, they often cut the cake, she added. “Most couples don’t realize that’s their first act as a couple.”
Miller’s attorney is confident that the appeal will be dismissed due to the judge’s comprehensive decision. The state is also challenging a ruling requiring them to cover Miller’s legal fees amounting to $3.62 million.
This case is currently progressing from the local court to the California Court of Appeals.
“Cathy is confident the ruling will be upheld by the Court of Appeals. She’s confident the local judge got the ruling correct,” said Paul Jonna, the attorney from the Thomas More Society representing Tastries.
Jonna also referenced the recent Supreme Court ruling, 303 Creative v. Elenis, concerning a Colorado-based Christian wedding web designer who faced a similar situation. In this case, the justices concluded that a Colorado law violated the website designer’s First Amendment rights by censoring what she wanted to say and requiring her to create designs that violated her beliefs about marriage. Jonna believes this precedent might influence the Court of Appeals to uphold the Kern County judge’s decision in favor of Tastries.
A wedding cake undoubtedly signifies that the union is a “marriage” and should be celebrated. Every artist and business owner, whether they hold religious or secular beliefs, has the right to decline to convey a message they disagree with. Hopefully, the California Court of Appeals will affirm this right by dismissing the appeal.