In same-sex wedding cake case, Supreme Court rules for Colorado baker — but who wins in future?

News broke this morning that the U.S. Supreme Court had issued a "narrow" ruling in favor of Colorado baker Jack Phillips in the long-awaited Masterpiece Cakeshop decision:

Wait a minute: The vote was 7-2. How exactly is that "narrow?":

Thus began some of the early discussion as folks on all sides sought to analyze the ramifications of the high court ruling.

As the day progressed, The Associated Press offered more context on the initial description of a "narrow" ruling, using adjectives such as "modest" and "limited" to characterize the decision:

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court ruled Monday for a Colorado baker who wouldn’t make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple in a limited decision that leaves for another day the larger issue of whether a business can invoke religious objections to refuse service to gay and lesbian people.
The justices’ decision turned on what the court described as anti-religious bias on the Colorado Civil Rights Commission when it ruled against baker Jack Phillips. The justices voted 7-2 that the commission violated Phillips’ rights under the First Amendment.
The case had been eagerly anticipated as, variously, a potentially strong statement about the rights of LGBT people or the court’s first ruling carving out exceptions to an anti-discrimination law. In the end, the decision was modest enough to attract the votes of liberal and conservative justices on a subject that had the potential for sharp division.
Justice Anthony Kennedy said in his majority opinion that the larger issue “must await further elaboration” in the courts. Appeals in similar cases are pending, including one at the Supreme Court from a florist who didn’t want to provide flowers for a same-sex wedding.

The New York Times, meanwhile, referred to the "narrow grounds" of the ruling, which the Times said came in "a closely watched case pitting gay rights against claims of religious freedom." 

On social media, advocates and experts scrambled to assess which side really won:

Not all tweets were equal, as far as seriousness:

Bottom line: The majority opinion by Justice Anthony M. Kennedy "leaves many questions unanswered," the Washington Post reported.

An expert on religion and law quoted by Religion News Service said "the precise language of the decision obscures larger issues at play."

As USA Today put it:

(T)he long-awaited decision did not resolve whether other opponents of same-sex marriage, including bakers, florists, photographers and videographers, can refuse commercial wedding services to gay couples. In fact, the court on Monday scheduled a similar case involving a Washington State florist for consideration at their private conference Thursday.

In other words, the high court punted on a definitive ruling, choosing instead a more — forgive me for using this word — narrow opinion.

Dear reader, as you delve into news reports, feel free to consider this advice from an earlier GetReligion post:

As always, a key issue is whether the stories make any attempt to understand the Religious Freedom Restoration Act distinctions between broad discrimination against a class of people and very, very narrow acts of conscience linked to longstanding religious doctrines and religious rites.
The press gets the difference when dealing with peyote rites among Native Americans. Not so much when dealing with traditional Christians who, in this case are involved in non-profit, doctrinally defined groups involved in a family ministry. The issue is whether the government will be granted the power to force religious groups to shut down, if they will not consent to changing their doctrines to those acceptable by the state.

Did anyone expect explicit discussion of RFRA? Probably not.

However, if SCOTUS says that religious liberty (or sexual liberty) will win in some future cases and not others, then that implies that someone will have to articulate RFRA-type standards that draw some guidelines for judges and legislators. Oh, and ordinary Americans who are in creative arts linked to weddings.

That's it for now.

But stay tuned for much more analysis of the decision — and news coverage of it — here at GetReligion.

Got questions or links to really good or bad media coverage? By all means, leave a comment below or tweet us at @GetReligion.



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