Kern County Superior Court Judge David R. Lampe left the two sides of the Tastries Bakery lawsuit in limbo Friday afternoon.
That means the many people watching the case closely will need to wait a little while, at least, to find out if Lampe will order Tastries owner Cathy Miller to chose between making wedding cakes for same sex couples or closing down the wedding cake portion of her Rosedale Highway bakery.
At issue Friday was a preliminary injunction that would govern Miller's business while the full case against her goes to trial.
The case exploded into the news in August when Miller refused to have her business make a cake for the marriage of two Bakersfield women, Mireya and Eileen Rodriguez-Del Rio.
Later last year the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing filed a suit against Tastries and Miller on behalf of the Rodiguez-Del Rios.
The suit claims that Miller violated the provisions of California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act, a law that prevents businesses from denying service to customers based on a number of factors including their religion, race, sex or sexual orientation.
On Friday Lampe grilled lawyers on both sides of the same-sex wedding cake controversy for nearly two hours, probing at the question of whether Tastries owner Cathy Miller was invoking her free speech and free exercise of religion when she rejected the request for a cake from the Rodriguez Del-Rios — and whether that invocation exempted her from following state law.
Prayer and Pride
At noon Friday, before the 1:30 p.m. hearing, a crowd of hundreds gathered at the Liberty Bell in front of Kern County Superior Court on Truxtun Avenue.
They enjoyed cookies from Tastries with the words “Thank You” on them.
“I hope each of you had a chance to have a sweet treat,” Miller said when she addressed the crowd.
Most of the people were there, heads bowed in prayer or voices raised in song, to support Miller.
But a smaller, more colorful contingent was there to support Mireya and Eileen Rodriguez-Del Rio with signs and LGBTQ rainbow flags.
For the most part the two sides co-existed peacefully though there were some attempts to wall off the smaller group from the main event area and a pro-Rodriguez-Del Rio sign was raised to block the podium during a prayer.
A few raised voices exchanged differing opinions after the prayer vigil was over.
And at least one audience member prayed loudly for Jesus to “bring these people to their knees and make them recognize their sin.”
But admonitions from speakers to respect each other’s right to assemble and to speak seem to have had effect.
Miller gave an impassioned defense of her decision not to make wedding cakes for gay and lesbian couples to cheers from the large contingent of supporters assembled by local conservative Christian pastors.
“We are not here about cakes or sexual orientation,” she said.
Her fight, Miller said, is to protect the religious freedom provisions of the First Amendment.
Her artistic ability to make cakes, she argued, was God-given and defines who he wants her to be.
“If we’re not able to follow our conscience we’re no longer able to be who God created us to be,” Miller said.
Once that’s gone, she said, people might as well be robots.
“I am incapable of doing something that would hurt my Lord and Savior,” Miller said.
Nearby Mireya Rodriguez Del-Rio said Miller never once spoke about her religion when the baker refused to make her and her wife a wedding cake.
Eileen Rodriquez Del-Rio said she and Eileen are believers as well but the God they believe in doesn’t discriminate.
The bottom line, she said, is that the Unruh Act stands for itself and Miller broke the law.
Later, inside Dept. 11 of the courthouse, lawyers for both sides made complicated legal points that boiled down to much the same debate.
Lampe said the case had been well briefed by both sides and his focus was to answer some lingering questions he had about the arguments both sides are making.
He asked Gregory Mann, the attorney for the Department of Fair Employment and Housing, if he was asking the court to constrain Miller’s free speech rights.
Could Miller, for instance, choose to make a cake for a same sex couple and include on the cake a Bible verse about marriage being between a man and a woman?
Mann said, as with many businesses, what is on a wedding cake is a contractual arrangement between the client and the bakery.
The case is about equal access to services from a public business, he said.
“Tastries here doesn’t want to provide equal status to same sex couples,” he said. “The (act) of choosing your customer is conduct, not speech.”
Miller’s lawyer Charles LiMandri of the Freedom of Conscience Defense Fund claimed his client shouldn’t be forced by state law to sacrifice her beliefs and violate her conscience.
“My client believes that marriage is between a man and a woman,” he said.
Lampe asked LiMandri what aspect of designing a wedding cake violates Miller’s belief’s and violates her free speech rights.
What offends her, he responded, is having her design taken to a same sex wedding.
“It’s a work of art as far as my client is concerned,” LiMandri said. “In my client’s mind this is a free exercise case.”
He argued that the Rodriguez-Del Rios were trying to entrap Miller when they came into the bakery.
Lampe rejected those arguments, sustaining objections from the DFEH lawyers and rejecting conclusions Miller drew that they were shopping for a lawsuit not a wedding cake.
Lampe also declined to stay the Tastries case until the U.S. Supreme Court issues a ruling on a similar case justices heard recently regarding a Colorado baker who refused to make a wedding cake for the wedding of two men.
Lampe listened to both side’s arguments, thanked them and said he would issue a ruling at a later date.
Out of the courtroom attorneys said they thought Lampe did a good, balanced job of trying the case.
“It’s hard to get a read from the tenor of the questions,” LiMandri said. “I believe this judge is going to do the right thing.”
The state's lawyer, Mann, said he was not authorized to talk to the media following the hearing.
But Patricia Ziegler-Lopez, the personal attorney for the Rodriguez-Del Rios, said she thought Lampe gave the case a fair hearing.
She said she doesn’t think the ruling will take long to come down.
“He’s not in a position to change the law on his own,” she said.