There's a new twist on the ongoing story of Colorado bakers caught in the middle of the culture war.
The Associated Press boils down the latest development this way:
DENVER (AP) — A dispute over a cake in Colorado raises a new question about gay rights and religious freedom: If bakers can be fined for refusing to serve married gay couples, can they also be punished for declining to make a cake with anti-gay statements?
A baker in suburban Denver who refused to make a cake for a same-sex wedding is fighting a legal order requiring him to serve gay couples even though he argued that would violate his religious beliefs.
But now a separate case puts a twist in the debate over discrimination in public businesses, and it underscores the tensions that can arise when religious freedom intersects with a growing acceptance of gay couples.
Marjorie Silva, owner of Denver's Azucar Bakery, is facing a complaint from a customer alleging she discriminated against his religious beliefs.
According to Silva, the man who visited last year wanted a Bible-shaped cake, which she agreed to make. Just as they were getting ready to complete the order, Silva said the man showed her a piece of paper with hateful words about gays that he wanted written on the cake. He also wanted the cake to have two men holding hands and an X on top of them, Silva said.
She said she would make the cake, but declined to write his suggested messages on the cake, telling him she would give him icing and a pastry bag so he could write the words himself. Silva said the customer didn't want that.
Overall, the AP story is pretty straightforward and makes an effort to present a range of viewpoints on the cake — er, culture — war.
But the opening sentence bothers me.
The way AP presents the issue right up top seems unclear and inaccurate. Has any baker actually refused to "serve married gay couples?" For that matter, has any baker refused to serve anyone?
Or is the issue defined much more accurately by the elaboration in the second paragraph, where the story references a baker who "refused to make a cake for a same-sex wedding?"
Later in the story, there's this:
But gay rights advocates say there is a significant difference in the cases. Silva refused to put specific words on a cake while Jack Phillips, the baker who turned away the gay couple, refused to make any wedding cake for them in principle.
"There's no law that says that a cake-maker has to write obscenities in the cake just because the customer wants it," said Mark Silverstein, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Colorado.
Phillips' attorneys had argued in court that requiring him to prepare a gay marriage cake would be akin to forcing a black baker to prepare a cake with a white supremacist message. But administrative law judge Robert N. Spencer disagreed, writing that business owners can refuse a specific message, but not service.
What AP doesn't make clear — and should have — is that Phillips offered to make any cake except a wedding cake for the same-sex couple.
LAKEWOOD, Colo. (AP) – The encounter at Jack Phillips' Masterpiece Cakeshop lasted less than a minute.
Phillips stepped out from behind the counter in his small, pastry-crammed shop to meet customers Charlie Craig and Dave Mullins. They told him they wanted a cake to celebrate their own marriage.
Phillips replied he couldn't, but that he'd be glad to make one for other occasions, such as birthdays. Left unsaid was how making a gay wedding cake would violate his Christian faith, how he does not make ones for Halloween or bachelor parties, either.
Yes, Phillips refused to make any wedding cake. But he didn't refuse to make any cake. Arguably, he, too, refused a specific message (of endorsing same-sex marriage), but not service.
That's an important distinction to make, right?