The Masterpiece Cake Shop Decision – A Narrowly Decided Cautionary Tale

The Masterpiece Cake Shop Decision demonstrated the Supreme Court of the United States threading the religious needle.   

In Masterpiece Cake Shop, while making it a point to explain that no determinations were actually being made on whether people with religious convictions can openly discriminate against gay people, or, more alarmingly, whether gay people deserve protections against such discrimination at all, the Supreme Court went out of their way to emphasize the importance of respect for religion.


gay rightsDon’t get me wrong, I have great respect for most religious belief.  My family holds hands and says what we are thankful for before every meal. We acknowledge the need for divine intervention with friends and family who are dealing with health issues.  We have ingrained just such a respect in our son to be tolerant of others, even those who would mock and deride our family just because it has two dads.


However, most Americans do not take the time to parse Supreme Court decisions to get to what the Justices are actually saying and, with the Masterpiece Cake Shop Decision, the message most people will hear is that religious beliefs now trump the dignity and equality of the LGBTQ community.


I feel the need to explain what I interpreted as the main message of The Masterpiece Cake Shop decision. In the majority decision, Justice Kennedy, the author of almost every positive gay rights decision out of the high court, gave short shrift to a complete analysis of the freedom of speech and free exercise of religion claims which strike to the heart of this decision. He did, however, along with the majority of the court, focus on the treatment that the baker received from the Colorado Civil Rights Commission.


masterpiece cake shop decisionJustice Kennedy held that, “When the Colorado Civil Rights Commission considered the case, it did not do so with the religious neutrality that the Constitution requires.  In other words, because of the Commission’s original treatment of the baker’s claim, no matter whether the result of their analysis was correct, the process was tainted from the start and therefore the holdings of all subsequent courts agreeing that the baker violated the rights of the petitioning gay couple, who, as Justice Ginsburg stated in her dissent,  “simply requested a wedding cake: They mentioned no message or anything else distinguishing the cake they wanted to buy from any other wedding cake Phillips (the Respondent) would have sold.”  But because the process was tainted with anti-religious bias, the underlying discrimination was no longer relevant.  


Because the Colorado Civil Rights Commission “showed hostility” toward the baker and his beliefs, that in and of itself, “cast doubt on the fairness and impartiality of the Commission’s adjudication of the … claim.”  Even if the Commission was right in their determination that impermissible discrimination existed, they weren’t adequately respectful to religion.  Thus the message that religion is more important than discrimination may be misinterpreted.


I have been searching for a meaning behind this seemingly incorrect finding.  Many of the greatest LGBT legal minds have attempted to make the distinctions in this decision that would stave off its potential future anti-gay wake of behavior and court reaction to that behavior.  This quote is a bit long but captures the proverbial threaded needle. Mary Bonauto, the civil rights director of GLAD and who argued the Obergefell marriage case before the Supreme Court in 2015 said:

“… this limited ruling provides no basis for this Bakeshop or other entities covered by anti-discrimination laws to refuse goods and services in the name of free speech or religion.

The Court was mindful of how far adrift we could go if every individual could apply his or her religious beliefs to every commercial transaction.  The Court contrasted permission for a clergy person to refuse to marry a couple as an exercise of religious belief, on the one hand, with the unacceptable “community-wide stigma” that would befall gay people if there was a general constitutional right to refuse to provide goods and services.”

I fear that this distinction will not be made by those who are less invested in understanding how these cases actually affect the lives of LGBTQ individuals, couples and families. My concern is for the families out there who now are questioning the legal certainty of their families, or whether their families will receive equal treatment in courts of less gay friendly jurisdictions.  We are, after all, a portable nation and our families are everywhere. 


While this decision does not actually give license to shop owners to deny gay people services, it is important to note that employment discrimination based on sexual orientation is still legal in 28 states.


At the risk of sounding like a lawyer, full disclosure – I am a lawyer, this case should serve as a wake up call that nothing can be taken for granted.  If you have put off doing your estate planning, do it now.  If you are a religious person, please pray that Justices Kennedy, Breyer and Ginsburg live long and healthy lives because these decisions can turn on a dime once right wing conservatives attain an indisputable majority on the court.  If you have questioned about whether you should get a second or step parent adoption, do it now. If you have legal questions about your immigration status, or that of your partner or spouse, find out about it now.


While my sincere hope is that more cases like this, with better fact patterns, will ultimately force the court to answer the questions that we all thought would be addressed in the Masterpiece cake Shop decision, namely whether religious “free speech” trumps anti-discrimination protection for LGBTQ people, until that time, we cannot sit idly by while others find solace and fortitude in their own anti-gay beliefs, whether religiously held or not.  


Anthony M. Brown, Time For Families – June 5, 2018

Republican senators want to protect people with anti-gay beliefs with the First Amendment Defense Act

President Trump has promised to sign the First Amendment Defense Act into law

Twenty-two Republican U.S. senators have reintroduced the First Amendment Defense Act, a bill that would potentially allow people to discriminate against LGBTQ individuals or same-sex couples under the guise of “religious freedom,” reports The Hill.Discrimination

The bill would insulate any individual who holds “a sincerely held religious belief” opposing homosexuality, transgenderism, or same-sex marriage, or any business operated by an individual with such beliefs, from being penalized or punished by the government should they be found to have discriminated against such people.

As a result, it would prohibit the government from levying fines against people who discriminate, denying them government contracts, or taking away special tax breaks, so long as the person claims that their refusal to provide goods or services was motivated by their religious beliefs.

Critics have warned that the bill is so broadly written that it would not just condone discrimination against LGBTQ individuals and same-sex couples, but single mothers, divorcees, those who engage in premarital sex, or anyone else whose lifestyle does not comport with a person’s religious beliefs, no matter how radical or out-of-the-mainstream those beliefs may be.

The bill was sponsored and introduced by Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), and co-sponsored by several prominent conservative senators, including Marco Rubio (Fla.), Ted Cruz (Texas), Orrin Hatch (Utah), Ron Johnson (Wis.), and Rand Paul (Ky.).

A similar iteration of the bill was introduced in both the House and Senate in 2015, but only received a hearing in the House. The measure failed to gain traction, and was eventually set aside by leadership amid protests from Democrats, and the realization that then-President Obama would veto the measure if it managed to pass Congress.

Lee had previously promised to reintroduce FADA after Donald Trump was elected president. Lee’s House counterpart, U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho), now running to be the next governor of Idaho, said last he would introduce similar legislation in the House during the current session, but never did, according to a search of filed bills in Congress.

By John Riley, metro, March 8, 2018

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Civil Rights Act Protects Gay Workers, Appeals Court Rules

A federal appeals court in Manhattan ruled on Monday that federal civil rights law bars employers from discriminating based on sexual orientation.

The case, which stemmed from the 2010 dismissal of a Long Island sky-diving instructor, was a setback for the Trump Justice Department, whose lawyers found themselves in the unusual position of arguing against government lawyers from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.Discrimination

The E.E.O.C. had argued that Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which bars workplace discrimination based on “race, color, religion, sex or national origin,” protected gay employees from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

But the Trump Justice Department took the position that the law did not reach sexual orientation, and said the E.E.O.C. was “not speaking for the United States.”

The Justice Department and Altitude Express, the instructor’s employer, could seek review of the decision by the United States Supreme Court, although neither party had any immediate comment on the ruling.

In its decision, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit said, “We see no principled basis for recognizing a violation of Title VII for associational discrimination based on race but not on sex.”

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Top Concerns for Gay Men Considering International Surrogacy

International surrogacy poses many questions, and potential obstacles for gay couples.

A gay couple made global headlines last year when their plans for having a baby together went horribly wrong. Manuel Santos and Gordon Alan “Bud” Lake III chose to move forward with a surrogate in Thailand, but after their baby was born, the surrogate refused to sign the final papers, chose to back out of the contract, and eventually decided to fight for custody. International surrogacy was back in the news.

Their case eventually went to court, but was complicated by the fact that the law in Thailand does not recognize same-sex marriages. On top of that, a new law that bans commercial surrogacy went into effect after their baby was born. The odds were stacked against them and the couple had to turn to crowd-funding to help pay for the legal fees and the costs of staying in the country during the battle. Thai surrogate mother

“Our lives have been turned upside down,” the couple explained on Fundly. “Our jobs are in danger, our family is now divided, false allegations and criminal charges have been brought against us. What was supposed to be the happiest time of our lives, bonding with our new baby girl — our daughter and our son’s new little sister – has turned into an absolute nightmare.”

I’ve heard similar stories like this before. I recently published a book titled, Journey to Same-Sex Parenthood: Firsthand Advice, Tips and Stories from Lesbian and Gay Couples, to help LGBT people understand the pros and cons to the various paths to parenthood. The book compares adoption, surrogacy, foster care, assisted reproduction, and co-parenting. One section in the book tells the story of David and Josh, a gay couple who decided to have a baby through international surrogacy but wound up stranded in India for a month after the government refused to grant exit visas for their newborn twins.

David and Josh were eventually allowed to bring their children home to the U.S. I’m also happy to announce that on April 26, Santos and Lake won their court battle in Thailand too, although the couple is still not able to take their child out of the country right away because of the possibility of an appeal by the surrogate mother.

I don’t want to make it sound like surrogacy is bad, or that all people who choose international surrogacy are destined to have horrible experiences, but I do want to raise awareness about the challenges that LGBT people may encounter when choosing to move forward on this path. Here are the top three things you should be aware of when considering international surrogacy.

Possible legal complications – If you are thinking about going to another country for surrogacy, consider the potential emotional and financial cost if you run into complications. Depending on your situation, you may not be able to bring your baby back to the United States or you may have lengthy delays before you can return. International surrogacy is complex and doesn’t have clear protections. Do your research to understand what legal rights the surrogate will have if any, and how the county protects LGBT couples. Consult with a lawyer that specializes in international surrogacy prior to moving forward so that you can be knowledgeable about the situation ahead of time.

Possible breach of contract – Even though all parties sign a contract in the beginning, it is still possible for a surrogate to violate her end of the agreement. There is a risk the birthmother could voluntarily have an abortion without the consent of the intended parents or refuse to have an agreed-upon abortion when recommended by the physician. It is also possible that the surrogate could use drugs, consume alcohol or fail to follow other behavioral restrictions laid out in the contract. In the case of Santos and Lake, the surrogate decided to back out of the contract all together after the baby was born.

by Eric Rosewood,, April 28, 2016

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Louisiana surrogacy bill to protect surrogacy arrangements advances, despite opposition from both sides of aisle

Louisiana surrogacy is legal, but right now, there are no protections for either the biological parents or the birth mother. In the eyes of the law, the woman who gives birth to a baby is the mother, so a surrogate could ultimately decide to break an agreement and keep the child, and the biological parents would have no legal recourse.

Similarly, the biological parents could decide midway through a pregnancy they no longer want the child, and the surrogate mother would be legally responsible for the child, another wrinkle in Louisiana surrogacy arrangements.

Loren McIntyre is in the process of adopting her firstborn son.

Born in January, he is 100 percent genetically her and her husband’s offspring, but the couple used a gestational carrier, or surrogate, to give birth. And in Louisiana, legally she is not the mother until the adoption is finalized this June.

gay surrogacy

Pregnant woman belly with rainbow symbol LGBT

McIntyre, who has severe endometriosis, is unable to give birth to her own children. She underwent seven unsuccessful rounds of in vitro fertilization before deciding to seek surrogacy.

McIntyre shared her story on Monday with a legislative House committee in the State Capitol in hopes lawmakers will pass a bill that creates legal safeguards in Louisiana surrogacy, where virtually none exists.

House Bill 1102 sets up a legal framework for surrogate arrangements, which bans compensation to the surrogate mother, sets age requirements, requires medical testing and counseling, and mandates background checks. Importantly, it ensures the surrogate mother cannot make a legal claim to the child, and it forbids the biological parents from being able to back out on the agreement.

An identical version of the bill was passed by the full Legislature last year but was vetoed by Gov. Bobby Jindal. On Monday, the House Committee on Civil Law and Procedure advanced the measure without objection. It goes to the full House of Representatives for consideration.

But the measure had ample opposition from both sides of the aisle.

On the left, LGBT groups opposed the language that defines the intended parents as a “man and a woman,” preventing same-sex couples from being able to use surrogacy as an avenue for parenting. The bill also requires that the embryo come from the egg and sperm of the intended parents, which again, precludes same-sex couples.

LSU Law Professor Andrea Carroll testified that while she believes there’s a need for HB1102, she believes that wording would render it unconstitutional, per last year’s U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage.

On the right, conservative anti-abortion groups testified that the act of surrogacy often requires multiple unused embryos that are frozen or discarded.

“Life starts at the embryonic stage,” said Ben Clapper, with Louisiana Right to Life. “It’s a human life that needs to be protected.”

State Rep. Stuart Bishop, the Lafayette Republican who sponsored the bill, stressed that in vitro fertilization and surrogacy already are legal.

April 18, 2016 – by Rebekah Allen

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Coca-Cola Will Offer More Inclusive Parental Leave, Including Surrogacy

Citing the influence of its millennial employees and the need to promote gender equality at work, Coca-Cola on Monday announced a far more inclusive paid parental leave policy.


Previously, Coke only gave six to eight weeks paid parental leave to female employees who gave birth. But starting in January, all new parents at Coke — including dads, adoptive and foster parents — will be entitled to six weeks off upon the arrival of their kids. Birth mothers will also be entitled to an additional six to eight weeks leave. The new benefit is not available to unionized Coke workers. Overall 40,000 employees are eligible, out of 60,000 in the U.S.2nd parent adoption, second parent adoption, second parent adoptions, second parent adoption new york

“Fostering an inclusive workplace means valuing all parents – no matter their gender or sexual orientation,” Ceree Eberly, Coke’s chief people officer, said in an announcement on the company’s website. “We think the most successful way to structure benefits to help working families is to make them gender-neutral and encourage both moms and dads to play an active role in their family lives.”

The company, which took in $44 billion in revenue last year, said the policy was “championed” by a formal group of millennial employees who had been asked to come up with ideas for attracting and retaining younger workers. By 2020, Coke expects more than half of its workforce will be of the “millennial generation,” born between 1981 and 1997., April 18, 2016, by Emily Peck

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Gay rights – Why religious freedom bills could be just the beginning of the gay marriage debate

Gay rights vs. religious protections feels like the social battle of the moment right now, and it might not go away anytime soon.

In the wake of the June Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage, dozens of states have considered or are considering legislation to give Christians and other people protections from doing something that violates their religious belief. It’s got LGBT advocates playing whack-a-mole across the nation as they argue that these laws amount to sanctioned discrimination of gay rights.

Three battles in the South over gay rights in particular have made headlines. Mississippi recently passed a sweeping bill allowing  businesses, religious institutions and state government employees to refuse service to LGBT people. Georgia’s Gov. Nathan Deal (R) vetoed a bill aimed at protecting religious institutions from having to perform same-sex marriages. And then there’s North Carolina and its bill limiting public bathrooms and locker room access for transgender people, which is a whole other issue for another day.

We spoke to Rochelle Finzel,  director of the children and families program with the nonpartisan National Conference of State Legislatures to get a better feel for why this seems to be taking up so much oxygen now — and what could come next. It’s important to note that Finzel and her staff don’t take any positions on policy; rather they track the legislative trends related to family law. Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.marriage equality

THE FIX: There’s a perception that laws protecting religious institutions and officials from having to perform same-sex marriages is a new phenomenon this year. But really, the 13 states that legalized same-sex marriage through state legislation included religious freedom protections too, right?

Finzel: That’s right. In some states that was the compromise; the only way they were going to get their legislation passed to legalize same-sex marriage was to make sure those religious officials were protected.

What’s happening now, after the Supreme Court ruling where now all states have to recognize same-sex marriage, I think it raised those same concerns of: How do we make sure the law is protecting those whose religious beliefs do not necessarily support same-sex marriage? So these conversations have been a little bit broader than just the solemnization question.

THE FIX: So you’re saying these new bills are controversial in part because they’re expanding beyond protecting religious institutions to how to protect the average person on the street who doesn’t agree with same-sex marriage for religious reasons? Is that a new debate?

Finzel: From my vantage point, that’s new.

The bills that have generated the most controversy and the legislation that ultimately most states, besides Mississippi, have  vetoed, that’s been where that controversy has arisen. And certainly where you see the business community weigh in.

It raises the question of: Are we then allowing discrimination if a person is able to deny services or benefits to someone based on their religious beliefs? We’re protecting one set of beliefs, but then is it discrimination on the other end? And that’s been the real question. But we are very early on in this conversation on gay rights.

THE FIX: How do you see this conversation evolving?

Finzel: This is new territory for states. They’re trying to think about the implications of same-sex marriage across a whole host of issues, from the religious protections as well as some of the family law. I think certainly the emphasis and focus right now is just on same-sex marriage and recognizing same-sex marriage.

The next piece will be, now that we have same-sex marriage and also have same-sex parents, what are the implications in terms of custody, parentage, paternity and all those related issues — child support, child custody, adoption.

THE FIX: When the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in June, was your reaction like, ‘Oh man, get ready for this huge legislative battle in the states,’ or have all these developments surprised you?

Finzel: It may have happened more quickly than we had anticipated. But it certainly has been on our radar. We were thinking, ‘What will this do for family law?’ And I’m not so sure that anyone really has all of the answers to that question yet.

THE FIX: Why are bathroom bills happening in conjunction with all this?

Finzel: That’s a good question. Maybe it’s a question to pose to some of the advocates on these issues. Has that been part of their platform as well?

THE FIX: Is it fair to say the religious protection vs. gay rights discussion has been centered in the South, which tends to have a higher concentration of social and religious conservatives who don’t necessarily agree with same-sex marriage?

Finzel: I think it’s a discussion around the country. All states are — and especially where the Supreme Court ruling was the first time they had to recognize same-sex marriage — sort of deer in the headlights, like, ‘Okay, what do we do?’ And I would say that’s across the board.

There are some that are looking at family law, some looking at how we change the language of our statutes so they reflect a more gender-neutral portrayal of family structures. We see more activity in the Republican states, but it’s not that it hasn’t been introduced or discussed in Democratic states. Family issues are not partisan.

by Amber Phillips, Washington Post – April 13, 2106

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Landmark China Same Sex Marriage Case Rejected

China Same Sex Marriage Case Rejected Dealing Gay Rights Movement A Major Blow

BEIJING (Reuters) – A court in China on Wednesday rejected a landmark China same sex marriage case by two men who had sought permission to get legally married, one of the plaintiffs said, a decision that shines the light on gay rights in the world’s most populous nation.

While homosexuality is not illegal in China, and large cities have thriving gay scenes, same-sex marriage is not legal, and same-sex couples have no legal surrogacy

In what activists hailed as a step forward for gay rights, Sun Wenlin, 26, had lodged the suit with a court in the southern Chinese city of Changsha against a civil affairs bureau that denied him the right to marry.

But after a short hearing, the court turned down his request to marry, Sun said.

“Of course I’m not very pleased about it but I’m not going to give up,” he told Reuters by telephone. “I plan to appeal.”

Sun said he had filed the lawsuit in December because he wanted to form a family unit with his 36-year-old partner.

Sun previously told Reuters he had tried to register to marry his boyfriend at the Furong district civil affairs bureau in June but was rejected by an official who told him “marriage had to be between a man and woman.”

April 13, 2016 –, via Reuters

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Mississippi Same-Sex Adoption Ban Unconstitutional

Mississippi Same-Sex Adoption Ban Unconstitutional: The Supreme Court “foreclosed litigation over laws interfering with the right to marry and ‘rights and responsibilities intertwined with marriage,’” a federal judge ruled Thursday.

WASHINGTON — A federal judge in Mississippi on Thursday afternoon halted enforcement of the state’s ban on same-sex couples adopting children.

Citing the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2015 decision ending bans on same-sex couples’ marriages, U.S. District Court Judge Daniel P. Jordan III granted a preliminary injunction against the state’s Department of Human Services in a case filed this past rights, lgbt adoption rights, adoption rights, gay adoption rights, gay adoption new york

Of the Supreme Court’s decision, Jordan wrote, “[T]he majority opinion foreclosed litigation over laws interfering with the right to marry and ‘rights and responsibilities intertwined with marriage.’”

Jordan concluded on Thursday: “The majority of the United States Supreme Court dictates the law of the land, and lower courts are bound to follow it. In this case, that means that [the adoption ban] violates the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution.”

The case was brought by same-sex couples seeking to adopt through the foster care system or private adoptions, as well as by the Campaign for Southern Equality and the Family Equality Council. They snagged Roberta Kaplan as their lead attorney in the challenge — the lawyer who represented Edie Windsor in her successful challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act and then Mississippi same-sex couples who successfully challenged the state’s same-sex marriage ban.

While Jordan did grant their requested preliminary injunction, he also granted the requests made by many of the defendants to be removed from the lawsuit. Jordan granted requests to dismiss the complaint against Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant, Attorney General Jim Hood, and several judges — finding that they were not the appropriate parties to be sued by the couples and groups., by Chris Gender – March 31, 2016

Lesbians get paid more than straight women, the Surprising reason Why

Why do lesbians get paid more than straight women?


Melinda Gates, the philanthropist and mother of three, gathered from listening to her kids and their friends that the next generation of American spouses expects to evenly split the household chores.

“I’m sorry to say this, but if you think that, you’re wrong,” she wrote to high schoolers Monday in her annual open letter, co-penned with her husband Bill Gates. “Unless things change, girls today will spend hundreds of thousands more hours than boys doing unpaid work simply because society assumes it’s their responsibility.”

She backed her case with global data. Women worldwide devote an average of 4.5 hours each day to unpaid work — cooking, cleaning, changing the baby’s diaper. Men contribute less than half that much time, according to the OECD.

gay money

The domestic division of labor remains staggeringly unbalanced in the United States, where female breadwinners now support 40 percent of homes. Women here typically spend two hours and 12 minutes daily on housework, while men spend one hour and 21 minutes.

2015 survey by Working Mom, furthermore, found that female breadwinners who lived with male partners still reported handling the bulk of grocery shopping, meal preparation, bill-paying and cleaning.

“This isn’t a global plot by men to oppress women,” Melinda wrote. “It’s more subtle than that. The division of work depends on cultural norms, and we call them norms because they seem normal — so normal that many of us don’t notice the assumptions we’re making. But your generation can notice them — and keep pointing them out until the world pays attention.”

February 25, 2016 – The Washington Post 

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