Cathy Miller, owner of Tastries Bakery, says she never expected the level of attention she’s received regarding her refusal to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple last summer. During an exclusive interview with reporter Steven Mayer, Miller describes in her own words what happened the day the controversy began, and what has happened since.
We sat down with Miller in her bakery. On speakerphone was her San Diego-based attorney Charles LiMandri, of the Freedom of Conscience Defense Fund, a team of pro bono lawyers providing legal services to Miller at no cost.
According to LiMandri's firm, state officials indicated in a phone conference Friday that they would likely appeal a Feb. 2 Kern County Superior Court ruling denying a request for an injunction that, if approved, would have compelled Miller to accommodate same-sex couples' requests for wedding cakes or stop making the cakes altogether.
In response to the state’s indication, LiMandri filed an anti-SLAPP motion on Miller’s behalf to dismiss the state’s case. The motion argues that in light of the court’s ruling, the state’s legal action is an attempt to deny Miller her free speech rights.
Friday's interview lasted nearly an hour. It has been edited for space and clarity, with the online version being significantly longer than the print version.
TBC: Let's go back to that day in question that people have talked about and the courts are mulling over and people across the nation and, I guess, across the world are curious about. We want to hear in your own words, what happened that day?
Miller: I have what's called "cupcake date" for my brides and my grooms. In order to come to a complimentary cupcake date ... you need to tell one of my girls up front that you are a bride and groom and are interested in a wedding cake or a dessert bar or cupcakes. They sign them up as a couple to come and see me ... So on that day in question ... I went over and I was under the impression that I was visiting the bride, the groom and their best man, maid of honor and one of the girl's mothers, which is very common here. That is the norm for me, and I went to visit and one of the ladies asked the other lady to fill out the form again. Many of the maids of honor, they will group together and pay for the wedding cake. That's kind of a fun thing that several brides are blessed with. So she handed it to her and I started asking questions and they couldn't answer them. They didn't have the answers and they answered them in an interesting way that caused me to be a little bit concerned. Then I turned around and said, "so who is the lucky groom?" and they pointed to the other girl.
So I realized okay, this is something I cannot participate in but I would be happy to help find a bakery because I had an arrangement with Give Me Some Sugar — and things went sideways with that. They expressed they weren't happy with that decision and grabbed the papers and said we'll take care of this and walked out, without tasting any of my cupcakes. And I offered for them to but I told them I'm sorry I just could not participate in their reception, their celebration. I told them I would be happy to refer them to another bakery but I could not participate in their celebration because of my conscience. And I needed to refer them to another bakery because I answer to my Lord and savior. I just could not do that.
LiMandri: And at that point they grabbed the papers and left. They chose to terminate the discussion in that way at that point. Tell them, Cathy, what happened after that.
Miller: Basically the same thing that happened last week. So I was teaching a cupcake class to five young adults. All teachers, for a birthday for an adult, and my bakery started going nuts. My girls started crying, so I went to the back and they said Kathy we don't know what to do. We are getting obscene phone calls — and the TV media kept calling and calling requesting my interview. So I had to terminate the class early. I went to the back and calmed the girls down. Within an hour of them leaving the bakery they (the opposition) started destroying all of my social media. Everything! Our 5-star ratings went to one star. Yelp was so bad that Yelp called me and said "We are suspending your account." Which they have done again this time (following the local court decision). We are now suspended on Yelp. Our Facebook page has taken a nosedive. Our Twitter, every part of social media.
Our emails were horrific, horrendous and vulgar. I have one girl who is, at the time she was 18, and there were the most obscene pictures and emails sent.
Miller: I had to call the girls and tell them I am so sorry that you are seeing this and Monday morning my manager for the front, came in, in tears and said she couldn't handle it and she was quitting, effective immediately. Within six weeks my second manager quit. Three weeks later a girl that basically was an assistant manager in the front, she was an amazing employee, she gave notice with no warning because she couldn't handle it. And she was the one that would answer the phone calls. We had customers in here saying "please let me take the phone, I'm going to handle this for you." We had police and the detectives get involved. It was so sad to see the viscousness and I ended up losing six employees that were amazing employees.
TBC: Six employees?
Miller: Well, when you only have 18 to begin with, that is a third of your staff ... so this has been devastating in that respect but the beauty is that Kern County has blessed us abundantly, shown their support and their love and their prayers. We had a prayer rally last Friday (Feb. 2) and there were — some people are saying 300 to 400 (participants).
But I can tell you I have over 300 texts or emails from people saying I wanted to be there but my kids were sick or I had to work, you know, so very supportive, very loving, very kind, amazing. And then we get emails and text messages and phone calls from all over the nation. Even over in the U.K., Australia, Bolivia, I mean it's just amazing the support.
TBC: Does the support you're receiving help negate the bad stuff?
Miller: It helps because we know we are standing for the Lord and we are standing on our Biblical faith. In Genesis and Leviticus and in other verses that state that marriage is between a man and a woman and that's our beliefs. I'm not pushing my beliefs on anyone and I don't think anyone should discriminate against me because of my Christian values.
TBC: You recommended the bakery, Gimme Some Sugar. Why that bakery?
Miller: Because I had visited with Stephanie at the Sugar Fest. There was a Sugar Fest here. I think she is an amazing decorator. Kind of jokingly, the second year I was here, I was in need of a decorator and I said Stephanie I would love to bring you over to Tastries and we laughed. I mean I would have loved to hire her. She is that kind of person, just a real sweetheart.
(Editor's note: Stephanie Fisher, the owner of Gimme Some Sugar for more than a decade, has a serious disagreement with Cathy Miller's recollection. See sidebar for more details.)
LiMandri: She is also gay and that shows that my client has no problem dealing with gay people, referring to gay people and that gay people walk in her shop and she sells any products that gay people want to buy off the shelves. The unique state of this case that we ask you to keep in mind is that it is only the design and creation of a custom wedding cake — and the judge focused on that. So its unique because of the process that goes into designing and creating a wedding cake. It's cooperation with the couple that makes her a full participant in that celebration. Which is different then selling any other product or what any other type of wedding vendor might have to offer. But I wanted to make that distinction and Cathy knew that the lady from Give Me Some Sugar is in a relationship with another woman and that she was happy to serve the gay community so it seemed like a reasonable accommodation.
TBC: I think this is going to clear up some questions that people have had about this incident because I think there was a sense that there was something about the design of the cake that was being requested from this couple that you objected to. But really your decision came before any request of the design. It was really about that it was a same sex couple.
Miller: The difference is, it's about a person or a purpose. The birthday cake is about a person. The wedding cake is a purpose. Do you understand that?
LiMandri: The judge made it this way: As most people know you go to a wedding reception, the cake is kind of the centerpiece among the decorations. It's to make a statement and the opposition agreed in the two-hour court hearing Friday that a wedding celebration is a form of speech. So the wedding cake, the judge said, is as clear a form of expressive speech as you can get. Now the wedding couple gets to choose the size of the cake, the design of the cake, the shape of the cake, the taste, the color and they get to decide whether you're going to put on a topper. Is it going to be two men, or two women? Are you going to write on it? Do they get to?
That was asked by the U.S. Supreme Court on Dec. 5th in the Masterpiece cake case (in Colorado), do they get to write "God bless this union?" even if it's a same sex couple? This is a Christian baker who feels he cannot put those words on it. So a wedding cake is very unique in that it makes a statement, the way anything else in her shop does not.
The devout Christian holds marriage as unique because Scripture says that theirs is a relationship between Christ and his church. So it's a sacred kind of thing, and so asking Cathy as a devout Christian to design and create a cake and deliver the cake and be there oftentimes when the reception is getting off the ground is asking to be part of something that goes against her conscience. So I think thats the distinction that needs to be made.
... Its not just a cake. If they want any other cake they can have the cake, but a wedding cake is a special design and a created, custom cake, so it is unique in that regard. Weddings and marriages are very unique in that regard. The Supreme Court said when it issued the decision that same sex couples are allowed to marry that this was not intended to disparage the sincere beliefs of people like Cathy. People like Cathy should be able to continue to hold and honor those beliefs and what we are seeing, and the Supreme Court said this in the Masterpiece cake case, tolerance is a two-way street.
TBC: Since you're kind of talking about this Chuck, I'm going to jump ahead to a question: Where does this case go from here? And how might it interact with what is happening at the Supreme Court now?
LiMandri: Its a fair question, Steve, and unfortunately there is no clear cut answer. We had a phone call with attorneys for the DFEH (state Department of Fair Employment and Housing) today and they are very professional. And they are considering what the next step is going to be. They indicated they will probably seek an appeal of the judges decision denying their injunction. And we are researching what form that appeal would take.
In the meantime we decided to exercise our rights on behalf of Cathy to file what is called an anti-SLAPP motion which would bring a clear end to this case and also give Cathy the right to her attorneys' fees for having brought the motion, to bring the case to an end at this point. And then if they file an appeal we will have to see where that goes and how the anti-SLAPP motion will be impacted. I can't give you a clear cut answer except that the opposition made it clear that they certainly don't intend to pursue any injunctive relief against Cathy at this point, as part of their investigation process. The judge has obviously brought that to a stop. So no one is going to be forcing Cathy at this point to make wedding cakes for gay couples or to stop making wedding cakes at all ... Now how does it affect the Supreme Court case? Obviously, the U.S. Supreme Court has the last word on all of these issues. They will issue a decision in June ... We expect that it will have a very significant impact and probably will decide this issue for all similar cases.
TBC: What has been the hardest part of this? And has your business suffered?
Miller: Financially we took a real big hit until recently. It hit us really hard for the first four or five months. And emotionally, it's taken its toll. But God is good. God has seen us through and has given us strength. He gives you what you need when you need it... and I have amazing employees right now that are just so supportive and encouraging.
TBC: What kind of support have you received in the community?
Miller: I opened the (temporary) kiosk at the Plaza yesterday. They put us in the center of the food court, and we were setting up until 1:30 a.m. the night before. We came back at 7:30 a.m. and everyone that was walking by was stopping and saying congratulations on the court hearing. Everyone was standing firm with us. Not one person was negative. Not one. It was all positive and encouraging and uplifting.
TBC: What are you hearing from people who disagree with you? And can you talk about your belief system and where it came from? You already talked about being raised in a Catholic church and later went to a Protestant or Baptist church. Because we are talking about your beliefs and your beliefs are at the center of this, was that change something that you came to later in life or is this a sense of what you have been expressing something that you have held all your life?
Miller: I have to blame my mom and dad because they taught me about Jesus from day 1, and I loved him with my heart my whole life. We have been involved in the Catholic Church since I can't even remember. I had my first communion, my first confession, my first confirmation. My dad was the high school leader. My mom was the church secretary. We would go on vacation and take the priest with us because we were friends. They would come over for dinner. We were very involved and I just loved my upbringing. Then when I was in high school there was a youth group that I really liked because they had a great choir called The Sunshine Company. My husband was the director of it. And I was in high school. But he waited until I graduated and he stepped down so that he could date me. So we dated and got married at First Pres. It was the music and the fellowship that drew me in, it was really nice. But early on we realized and we felt led to be there with Pastor Roger (Spradlin) at Valley Baptist and he was amazing and we raised our kids there.
TBC: How long have you been there?
Miller: 30 years, 30-plus years.
LiMandri: One thing that Cathy has said before that I think is responsive, is the wedding cake is unique. She won't make a divorce cake. People have come in and they think its funny to present their spouse with a divorce cake, which is hurtful and a kind of mean-spirited thing that goes against marriage being ideally the way God intended it to be, which is a permanent institution. And that's the vows people take, "Until death do us part." So she won't do a divorce cake, she doesn't do gory types of cakes.
So its not just wedding cakes for same sex couples. I think its important when Cathy and I have done these interviews before people want to know what your basing it on because so many people say well "What would Jesus do? Jesus would be loving. He wants everybody to be happy."
No! Jesus was very clear in Scripture and people believe its the holy word of God. He said "I am the Word." He is word made flesh. And he also said "I am the truth." So although you want to be loving and compassionate, to honor Jesus you have to speak the truth. And the Bible is very clear that God made man and woman in His image. In the first book of Genesis and that we can only understand God in the concept of humanity, as man and woman together. And that is from the first book of the Gospel. Yes there is specific passages that deal with homosexuality. We are not focusing on those because the fact is we are all sinners, and we understand that. We are not singling out homosexuals saying "You're the bigger sinner." No. That's God's business to determine who is a sinner or not...
Marriage is a sacrament. It's sacred. It's different from almost anything else we could talk about. Marriage is unique and that is why this case is not a slippery slope to excuse anybody from providing service to anyone else. And people who made that argument are going against what the judge said. The judge was very clear. Bigots who are true bigots should still be treated as bigots. People who won't serve other people in restaurants or hardware stores or anyone else. The law will not protect them. And they will have to pay harsh penalties if they act that way towards anyone. This situation is truly unique. And the difference is Cathy made a reasonable accommodation so that these people could have their wedding cake, but they can't make her provide that wedding cake under any circumstances.
TBC: Is same-sex marriage more egregious than, say, someone who has committed adultery, or experienced divorce or multiple divorces?
Miller: We're not talking about those. We're talking about the Bible and I need to live by my conscience. I cannot do something that goes against my conscience. When someone walks in and I know that it's a same-sex marriage, it's explicit. There's seven different Bible verses talking explicitly about a man being with a man and a woman being with a woman. And that's something I cannot participate in... I know my Scripture and I know what I can and cannot do.
LiMandri: (Local radio host) Ralph Bailey asked the question, would you make a wedding cake for a felon. Well, of course. The Bible doesn't say everyone has to be perfect. But it does say, definitionally, what marriage is. So it's not about one person's sin being greater than another person's sin. That's God's doing.
TBC: Your attorneys have argued that this case is about your First Amendment rights. But my sense is that you believe this is about your right to practice your faith freely. Which way do you see it?
LiMandri: Well, legally, technically, the First Amendment has enumerated in it a number of rights. The first is the free exercise of religion. And the word "exercise" has meaning. It's not freedom of worship, going into church and praying on Sundays. It's taking your faith into the marketplace and into the public square. Beyond that, freedom of speech is part of the First Amendment... What makes this unique is the type of speech she's being asked to engage in is she views as religious, which is why it was kind of tough when the judge asked us last Friday, "Is this free exercise of religion or free speech?" Well, really it's both. It's both. But he chose to render his decision based on freedom of speech... Having a pre-designed cake for a wedding is a form of expressive speech, and the line is you can't make anyone express speech in favor of an idea or concept they don't agree with.
Miller: I can't do anything that would go against my Lord and savior. I love him with all my heart. And I won't violate my conscience or my religious convictions. I am happy to serve anyone who walks in the door anything out of the case, and bless them as a person, but I can't violate my conscience when it comes to the purpose of a cake, a custom-designed cake.
Miller: I don't want to be discriminated against, either. I think there needs to be respect on both sides.