A narrow ruling in the Colorado cake baker case [UPDATED]

As Steve noted here, the Supreme Court ruled today in favor of Jack Phillips, the Colorado cake baker who refused to make a custom cake for a same-sex couple because he believed that doing so would violate his religious beliefs. Phillips’ victory wasn’t narrow. He won 7-2. However, the opinion that accompanied the victory was quite narrow.

Amy Howe of SCOTUSblog explains:

Although Phillips prevailed today, the opinion by Justice Anthony Kennedy rested largely on the majority’s conclusion that the Colorado administrative agency that ruled against Phillips treated him unfairly by being too hostile to his sincere religious beliefs. The opinion seemed to leave open the possibility that, in a future case, a service provider’s sincere religious beliefs might have to yield to the state’s interest in protecting the rights of same-sex couples, and the majority did not rule at all on one of the central arguments in the case – whether compelling Phillips to bake a cake for a same-sex couple would violate his right to freedom of speech.

Thus, a state human rights agency, for example, can get around the Court’s ruling by concealing its contempt for religious views like those of the baker and pretending neutrally to balance them against the imperative, as Justice Kennedy sees it, that “gay persons and gay couples [not] be treated as social outcasts or as inferior in dignity and worth.”

If the state human rights agency, or other defendant, succeeds in this concealment and pretense, it will be an open question whether a cake baker, or other commercial provider, must deploy his skills to help celebrate a gay wedding. The Supreme Court leaves the resolution of that question for another day.

Or perhaps other days. Justice Kennedy’s opinion suggests that the outcome may vary depending on the nature of the provider and his services. Thus, these disputes may have to be decided case-by-case for all types of wedding vendors. Courts can become wedding planning review boards.

It might not be as easy as it sounds for outfits like the Colorado civil rights agency to mask their contempt for Christian views when they are asserted in opposition to the left-wing agenda. That contempt often runs deep. However, I think we can expect these bodies to rise to the occasion.

I hope that when this issue returns to the Supreme Court, it will be decided by a more conservative group of Justices.

UPDATE: David French notes that one of Justice Kennedy’s reasons for finding Colorado was motivated by anti-religious animus in its ruling against the baker is that Colorado has protected the right of bakers to refuse to create cakes with explicitly anti-gay messages. This portion of the majority opinion will make it difficult in some wedding vendor cases for states to navigate their way around today’s decision.