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Cake wars: Colo. Supreme Court won't allow baker to deny gay couple service

The state's highest court declined to overturn a lower court's decision that forbid a baker from denying service to gay couple on religious grounds.

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Masterpiece Cakeshop owner Jack Phillips decorates a cake inside his store in Lakewood, Colo. Colorado's Supreme Court on Monday refused to take up the case of Mr. Phillips, who would not make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple. The decision lets stand a lower court ruling that the Masterpiece Cakeshop owner cannot cite his Christian beliefs in refusing service.

Brennan Linsley/AP

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The Colorado Supreme Court on Monday denied a push to overrule an earlier ruling by a lower court that prevents cakemakers from refusing to serve same-sex couples on religious grounds.

The state's high court declined to hear the case of a Denver baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple. The refusal to take the case effectively upholds the previous lower court decision against the Masterpiece Cakeshop.

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The debate around the right of bakers to refuse to cater same-sex weddings is one segment of a broader cultural rift between lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights activists and religious conservatives that has widened in the wake of the US Supreme Court landmark ruling legalizing same-sex marriage last June.

The ruling comes as another religious liberty debated simmers in North Carolina, where the law has rested on the side of conservatives. There, opponents of a so-called bathroom bill that demands transgender people use the restroom that corresponds with the gender on their birth certificate marched on the state capitol with 180,000 signature seeking to have the law repealed. Part of that law also prevents local and state governments from enacting local protections for LGBT people in the private sector. Across the country, similar legal battles are being fought.

The American Civil Liberties Union applauded the Colorado Supreme Court’s decision not to overturn the earlier decision.

"The highest court in Colorado today affirmed that no one should be turned away from a public-facing business because of who they are or who they love," Ria Tabacco Mar, staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union's LGBT Project who argued the case, said in a statement. "We all have a right to our personal beliefs, but we do not have a right to impose those beliefs on others and discriminate against them."

Ms. Tabacco Mar argued on behalf of Charlie Craig and David Mullins, who were refused service by baker Jack Phillips.

Attorney Nicolle Martin, who represents Mr. Phillips, said she and her client had not yet decided whether to accept the ruling, push for Colorado's highest court to reconsider, or take their case to the US Supreme Court. Martin said she is surprised the Colorado court will not consider the case.

"This is a matter that affects all Americans, not just people of faith," Ms. Martin said.

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Phillips declined to make a cake for Mr. Craig and Mullins in 2012 after they married in Massachusetts and planned a celebration in Colorado.

This report contains material from Associated Press.