A Kern County Superior Court judge’s preliminary injunction ruling in favor of Tastries Bakery Owner Cathy Miller on Monday received a mixed response from Bakersfield businesses and other organizations.
Some feel that the case sets a dangerous precedent for the future treatment of the LGBTQ community and other minority groups while others believe it rightly recognizes business’ rights to deny service.
“I think that she is using religion to shield their bigotry and homophobic leanings,” said Dolores Huerta, part of the organization Equality California. “This doesn’t affect Mrs. Miller’s family life in any shape or form. It’s just plain hatred. That’s all that it is, and she needs to be called out for it.”
Huerta said she believes the treatment of couple Mireya and Eileen Rodriguez-Del Rio by the business isn’t a far cry from the past, such as when African-Americans were denied service and had to use “colored-only” facilities.
Huerta said Miller’s treatment of the couple also goes against Christian religious principles.
“One of the biggest concepts of religion is to love your neighbor and treat others as you want to be treated,” she said. “There’s nothing in Jesus’ words that say you should discriminate against people who are different than you are. She should respect their rights like she wants her rights to be respected.”
Vonnie Story, owner of Story’s Christian Store, said she was happy with Tuesday’s ruling, saying that it supported business’ right to be able to deny service. While she said she would never discriminate against anyone, she understands Miller’s point that the couple was infringing on her personal beliefs.
“This is still America. Why can’t you go somewhere else if you bother the business owner?” she said. “It seems like what keeps getting thrown at us is people saying ‘you have to accept our way of life.’ I’m really frustrated that as a business owner you can’t say no, or you’re looked at as discriminating someone.”
Aaron Bowers, a manager at Gimme Some Sugar Sweet Co., said that as a businessman and a gay man, he can understand the perspectives on both sides of the issue.
“I think that as a business owner, you should have some rights, but you have to be careful that it doesn’t cross into discrimination,” he said. “I have done some cakes for different groups I don’t really understand and wouldn’t personally be a part of, but I can’t let my ignorance of what they’re doing dictate what we’re willing to sell.”
Bowers said he understands that some businesses reserve the right to deny service, which he believes should be allowed if there are cases where an unruly customer is verbally or physically assaulting employees or causing physical damage to the business.
However, he feels there should be limitations on under what grounds someone can be denied service.
“We need to have a much clearer definition of under what conditions you can deny service,” he said. “Maybe it’s a list saying this is OK, this is not.”
Attorney Jerry Pearson, managing partner at Young Wooldridge, LLP in Bakersfield, said the law is clear on what is and isn't allowed with a denial of service policy.
"A business can have a policy that reserves the right to refuse service to anyone and it is perfectly legal. This allows a business to refuse service to a customer who is unruly, loitering, or otherwise creating a disturbance," he said. "What a business cannot do, however, is discriminate against a person or persons based upon a protected characteristic such as age, race, sex, etc. Such claims would fall under the California Unruh Civil Rights Act."
Gimme Some Sugar has recently had a connection with Tastries. Bowers said that when Miller would get a gay couple, she would often refer them to Gimme Some Sugar for service, even though Bowers said the bakery never entered into such an agreement with Tastries.
There were even times where Bowers said Miller had told couples that the bakery would match her price.
While Bowers said it only happened a handful of times, it often caused a lot of stress and anger for customers.
“It seemed a little trivial at first because it was just a cake, but once we spoke to those people that they turned away, it became more real,” he said. “It was very upsetting for them.”
Bowers said Gimme Some Sugar has a policy to welcome everyone. While that may have played a part in why Miller chose to send her customers to the business, Bowers believes that Miller knew that gay people work at the bakery.
“I think what we really need is more understanding on both sides. I think that might help prevent things like this from happening,” he said.
Jim Balmain, owner of Smith’s Bakeries, said that while he has made cakes for gay couples, he respects Miller’s religious beliefs.
“The thing I love about this country is it’s a free country. Everyone is entitled to one’s beliefs,” he said. “I have tremendous faith that our legal system will sort this all out.”