I saw bigotry on public display last week, a few days before Judge David Lampe's controversial ruling.
It was at a public rally at the downtown Liberty Bell hosted by the California Family Council, a right-wing Christian group notorious for opposing gay rights, women's health choices and anti-bullying efforts in public schools. They were there to hold a prayer rally in support of Cathy Miller, the owner of Tastries Bakery, who broke the law by refusing to make a wedding cake for two lesbians.
Ms. Miller was due in court that day.
The speakers were careful to avoid mention of same-sex marriage or homosexuality. They claimed that the issue concerned Ms. Miller's First Amendment rights, practice of religion, freedom of speech and artistic expression. I seriously doubt if anyone assembled there believed that the rally was held to strictly uphold the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights.
The rally was all about turning the clock back on our state's fairly recent tolerance and protection of a minority group. It wasn't a prayer rally for Cathy Miller or religious freedom. It was a prayer rally against the hated “gay agenda” and the fictional War On Traditional Marriage. They were church people, not legal scholars.
I was dismayed to find that the local LGBTQ community had not prepared a counter rally. After all, they were on the side of law and order in the hearing that followed in Lampe's court. The State of California's lawyer was representing two of their own. The LGBTQ activists were there, but as silent onlookers content to hold their signs of protest while banished to the fringes of the crowd.
Someone could have mounted an effective rebuttal and filled in the details of the case that the California Family Council failed to mention, like the fact that we have a law in California Civil Code 51 (Unruh Civil Rights Act) that states, “All persons within the jurisdiction of this state are free and equal, and no matter what their sexual orientation are entitled to the full and equal accommodations, advantages, facilities, privileges, or services in all business establishments of every kind whatsoever.”
I'm sure that Cathy Miller knew that other bakers have failed to use their religious freedom as cover when refusing to make wedding cakes for same-sex couples. An Oregon bakery violated a law similar to the Unruh Civil Rights Act, was fined $135,000 and went out of business. A Colorado baker has been given an ultimatum by a judge: serve gay weddings or face fines. The U.S. Supreme Court heard his appeal in December and is expected to issue a ruling in late spring.
Miller and those other bakers have claimed that their wedding cakes are a protected form of artistic expression and free speech. A judge should dismiss that obvious ruse, as the “artists” have willingly relinquished their free expression and free speech to the customer, who chooses every option for the cakes they order, usually from photographs in a book and cake samples. Ever heard of a bride that rejects the book of photos and the tasting, tells a baker to use whatever ingredients, religious freedom, artistic expression and free speech to create whatever kind of wedding cake the baker wishes to make, with whatever the baker wants to write?
In my lifetime — 1964 to be exact — a man by the name of Maurice Bessinger owned a restaurant and he wouldn't serve food to blacks. His religion, as he practiced it, believed that it was a sin to allow people of different races to mingle and to eat together. By 1968, his discrimination case went before the Supreme Court, which ruled unanimously that freedom of speech and freedom of religion do not exempt business owners from public accommodations laws that require them to serve customers equally. Will the 2018 Supreme Court be so wise?
There's a law for a reason that perhaps Cathy Miller can't understand as a white, right-wing, fundamentalist Christian heterosexual.
Brian Russom is a retired social worker and community activist. The views expressed are his own.