A lawsuit that has drawn national attention to Bakersfield arrived at another decision Friday when a Kern County judge ruled a Rosedale Highway business owner acted lawfully five years ago when she refused to make a wedding cake for a local lesbian couple before referring them to a different bakery.
Judge Eric Bradshaw issued a verdict finding the state Department of Fair Housing and Employment failed to prove Tastries Bakery owner Catharine “Cathy” Miller intentionally discriminated against Eileen and Mireya Rodriguez-Del Rio in violation of California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act.
“Miller’s only motivation, at all times, was to act consistent with her sincere Christian beliefs about what the Bible teaches regarding marriage,” Bradshaw wrote. “That motivation was not unreasonable, or arbitrary, nor did it emphasize irrelevant differences or perpetuate stereotypes.”
Arriving nearly three months after lawyers in the case made their final arguments, the decision was welcomed as a First Amendment victory by Miller and her pro-bono attorneys with the conservative Thomas More Society.
“It’s been a long five years,” Miller said Friday, adding she never meant to hurt anyone but that she could not, by making their wedding cake, participate in the couple’s same-sex marriage.
“I’m hoping that in our community we can grow together,” she said, “and we should understand that we shouldn’t push any agenda against anyone else.”
The plaintiff in the case, the DFEH, said through a spokeswoman only that it was aware of the ruling but had not determine what to do next.
Eileen Rodriguez-Del Rio indicated she and her wife expect an appeal.
“Of course we’re disappointed, but not surprised,” she said. “We anticipate that our appeal will have a different result.”
An earlier decision in Kern County Superior Court also went Miller’s way, but it was later vacated by the 5th District Court of Appeal, which sent the lawsuit back for adjudication in Kern.
The case struck a chord nationally after the couple posted on social media that they had been told by Miller that her design standards ruled out making a cake celebrating their marriage.
As word of her actions spread, the bakery received numerous rude messages, including pornographic emails. The Rodriguez-Del Rios also faced blowback, becoming the subject of an article containing fabrications.
In his ruling, Bradshaw found the wedding cakes Tastries sells represent “pure speech” designed and intended as an artistic expression in support of union in the sacrament of marriage. He noted Miller’s design standard had made that explicit before the already-married couple came to the bakery to buy a cake they planned to share with friends and family at a celebration of their renewal of vows.
“Defendants’ pure and expressive speech is entitled to protection under the First Amendment,” Bradshaw wrote.
His ruling examined three options suggested by the plaintiff, starting with having Miller and Tastries sell their products to all customers. Bradshaw wrote that the business already does that.
The second proposed option of not selling wedding cakes at all, the judge wrote, would be devastating to the business because it receives at least a quarter of its revenue from their sale.
Bradshaw also rejected the third option suggested by the department, which was to let Miller’s employees manage the process of making and selling wedding cakes to same-sex couples. Besides stifling her Christian views, he wrote, the proposal would be infeasible for the operation of the business.
A news release issued Friday by the Chicago-based Thomas More Society declared Miller had been vindicated in court for practicing her Christian principles. In it, her primary lawyer, Charles LiMandri, stated that the freedom to practice religion is enshrined in the U.S. Constitution and that the U.S. Supreme Court “has long upheld the freedom of artistic expression.”
His partner at the law firm of LiMandri & Jonna LLP in Rancho Santa Fe, Paul Jonna, pointed out in the release what he saw as a “certain irony” in the case: “that a law intended to protect individuals from religious discrimination was used to discriminate against Cathy for her religious views.”
Bradshaw indicated in the ruling that the defendants will be awarded attorney’s fees and other costs related to the lawsuit.