Good job, New York Times.
The Times often falters in covering issues related to traditional biblical beliefs on marriage and sexuality.
But in a front-page story Sunday, the paper nailed the key question related to a Colorado baker who refuses to make a cake for a same-sex wedding.
GetReligion has, of course, stressed this critical question since the U.S. Supreme Court decided to hear baker Jack Phillips' case this fall:
Is there a difference between (1) making a generic cake and selling it to anybody willing to pay for it and (2) using one's artistic talents to create a special cake celebrating an occasion such as a wedding?
After reading the Times' headline, I'll admit I was a little worried about the direction — and potential fairness — of the story:
Cake Is His ‘Art.’ So Can He Deny One to a Gay Couple?
Notice the quote marks around "art?"
I wondered if they were really necessary. And if there was any chance they were meant as scare quotes — a textual raising of the eyebrows?
Given the apparent skepticism of the headline, I was surprised by the sympathetic nature of the lede:
LAKEWOOD, Colo. — Jack Phillips bakes beautiful cakes, and it is not a stretch to call him an artist. Five years ago, in a decision that has led to a Supreme Court showdown, he refused to use his skills to make a wedding cake to celebrate a same-sex marriage, saying it would violate his Christian faith and hijack his right to express himself.
“It’s more than just a cake,” he said at his bakery one recent morning. “It’s a piece of art in so many ways.”
But then I kept reading, and the other side questioned the veracity of Phillips' "art":
The couple he refused to serve, David Mullins and Charlie Craig, filed civil rights charges. They said they had been demeaned and humiliated as they sought to celebrate their union.
“We asked for a cake,” Mr. Craig said. “We didn’t ask for a piece of art or for him to make a statement for us. He simply turned us away because of who we are.”
And just four paragraphs into the story — with both sides' point of view reported clearly and impartially — I was suddenly optimistic about the possibility of this Times report earning a positive review.
Believe it or not, the story got even better.
For example, this section gives both sides an ample opportunity to make their best case — and that's all anyone can ask from a fair piece of journalism:
Mr. Phillips, 61, grew emotional as he talked about the case.
“I have no problem serving anybody — gay, straight, Muslim, Hindu,” he said. “Everybody that comes in my door is welcome here, and any of the products I normally sell I’m glad to sell to anybody.”
But a custom-made wedding cake is another matter, he said.
“Because of my faith, I believe the Bible teaches clearly that it’s a man and a woman,” he said. Making a cake to celebrate something different, he said, “causes me to use the talents that I have to create an artistic expression that violates that faith.”
Mr. Mullins and Mr. Craig, speaking in the kitchen in their Denver home, rejected the distinctions Mr. Phillips drew.
“Our story is about us being turned away and discriminated against by a public business,” said Mr. Mullins, 33, an office manager, poet, musician and photographer.
Mr. Craig, 37, who works in interior design, said the episode at the bakery still haunted them. “To this day, we still question whether talking about our relationship when we go in somewhere, we could be discriminated against again,” he said.
For anyone who has followed this case for years (raise your hands, GetReligion readers!), the Times story will be a rehash of what you already know.
But based on the Times story, readers new to the case can draw their own conclusions about who's right — both morally and constitutionally. Kudos to the Times for a fair, balanced report that gives them the necessary facts to do so.