November 07, 2017

As LGBTQ Rights Case Heads to Supreme Court, Merkley and Wyden Join Amicus Brief in Support of Equal Treatment in Public Accommodations

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Oregon’s Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden today announced that they have joined an amicus brief in support of equal rights for the LGBTQ community and other marginalized groups in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission.

A ruling for Masterpiece Cakeshop could create a “license to discriminate,” allowing businesses to deny service to Americans, including LGBTQ people. The Senators were joined on the brief, which was led by Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Representative Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY), by 34 Senators and 174 House members.

“If your door is open for business, then it must be open to all Americans. No one deserves to have that door slammed on them simply because of who they are or whom they love,” said Merkley. “Discrimination has no place in our nation, and this is another step in the fight for a more just and more equal America.”

“I have always been proud to be at the forefront of fighting for LGBTQ Americans and the equal rights they deserve, including the right to walk into a bakery and buy a cake regardless of a person’s gender or sexual orientation,” Wyden said. “Discriminating against anybody because of who they are, how they look or who they love has no place in our country, which is why I remain committed to fighting for equality for every American.”

Merkley and Wyden are both supporters of the Equality Act, legislation authored by Merkley that would codify explicit federal civil rights protections for LGBTQ Americans in public accommodations, employment, housing and more. Merkley and Wyden also signed a June 2016 amicus brief, led by Merkley, Baldwin and Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI), supporting LGBTQ rights against employment discrimination.

As Speaker of the Oregon House, Merkley led the 2007 push to pass the Oregon Equality Act, which guarantees non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ Oregonians. The Oregon Equality Act would be significantly impacted if the Supreme Court rules against the Colorado Civil Rights Commission in the Masterpiece case, as businesses could declare that their religious views allow open discrimination against LGBTQ people in Oregon.

“In this country we believe in freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom from discrimination,” said Harper Jean Tobin, Esq., Director of Policy for the National Center for Transgender Equality. “If civil rights laws could be ignored in the name of religion, businesses across the country from hotels to hospitals could put up a ‘transgender not welcome’ sign. On behalf of the nearly two million Americans who are transgender we thank the Members of Congress who are standing up against a license to discriminate.”

In 2012, same-sex couple Charlie Craig and David Mullins were denied a wedding cake by Masterpiece Cakeshop because of their sexual orientation. The shop’s owner, Jack Phillips, cited religious objections to same-sex marriage as a justification for his refusal. The Colorado Civil Rights Commission ruled that the shop could not lawfully deny services to individuals based on their sexual orientation under the Colorado anti-Discrimination Act and required the shop to provide staff training and issue reports on steps taken to come into compliance with the ruling. Masterpiece Cakeshop appealed the ruling, which was eventually upheld by the Colorado Supreme Court. The shop appealed the decision, and the  United States Supreme Court granted certiorari.

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on December 5th.  If the court finds that a business owner’s religious conviction or expressive intent trumps civil rights laws, it would undermine local, state and federal civil rights laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, or other factors.

In the friend-of-the-court brief, signers urge the Supreme Court to affirm the Colorado Civil Rights Commission’s initial decision to require Masterpiece Cakeshop to comply with the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act. The brief considers the history of federal nondiscrimination laws, such as Title II of the Civil Rights Act, and Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and how rulings regarding those statutes apply to the pending case. Signers warn that the outcome of the case could have broad implications for the civil rights of groups that already face discrimination and that creating exemptions to public accommodations laws would undermine the government’s interest in prohibiting discrimination against minority groups.

The brief is supported by the Human Rights Campaign, the American Civil Liberties Union, Bend the Arc Jewish Action, GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders (GLAD),  Lambda Legal, NAACP Legal Defense Fund, National Center for Lesbian Rights, National Center for Transgender Equality, National Employment Law Project, National LGBTQ Task Force, National Women’s Law Center, People for the American Way Foundation, SAGE, Transgender Law Center, Equality California, Equality Delaware, Equality Florida, Equality New Mexico, Equality North Carolina, Garden State Equality, and One Colorado.