Marriage Equality: Australia Approves, SCOTUS Hears Cake Case


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The trajectory of the gay rights movement can sometimes resemble the jagged line on a heart monitor. Gains and setbacks can land with equal force and frequency. This week’s events included a legislative win and oral arguments before the US Supreme Court in a momentous case.

On Tuesday, the court heard long-awaited arguments in a case filed by Colorado baker Jack Phillips — the proprietor of Masterpiece Cakeshop, who refused to sell a wedding cake to a same-sex couple because he felt doing so clashed with his Christian faith. Conflating the business transaction — and, to some, artistic expression — with endorsement of homosexuality, Phillips contends that his right to practice religion is as sacred as the couple’s right to equal treatment.

To the extent that the two concepts are mutually exclusive, the justices will have to determine whether protecting First Amendment rights takes precedence over Colorado’s anti-discrimination laws. The far-reaching implications of such a decision is not lost on the court’s liberal justices.

If freedom of expression can be used to justify Phillips’s case, Justice Elena Kagan asked, would a chef or makeup stylist be permitted to selectively provide services too?

“We want some kind of distinction that will not undermine every civil-rights law, from the year one,” Justice Stephen Breyer said, “including everybody who has been discriminated against in very basic things of life, food, design of furniture, homes, and buildings.”

When the session ended, the court appeared sharply divided along party lines. The pivotal decision — scheduled for next June — probably rests again with Justice Anthony Kennedy, author of the landmark 2015 ruling that legalized gay marriage nationwide.

From his remarks during the hearing, Kennedy seems somehow as sympathetic to devout, discriminating business owners as he is to disenfranchised customers.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the earth, Australia became the 25th country to recognize same-sex marriage on Thursday, when parliamentarians passed a cross-party bill in a near-unanimous vote. The historic decision follows the result of last month’s $122 million national postal survey, a plebiscite that showed unprecedented popular support for gay marriage.

Even conservative parliamentarians who personally opposed the bill ended up supporting it out of respect for popular opinion — a principle that must feel laughably utopian in today’s Washington. But amid the jubilation surrounding the passing of the bill, a sobering report found that violence against LGBTQ Australians doubled in the three months after the postal vote was announced.

In the videos below, Australian politician Tim Wilson proposes to his partner during a debate in parliament, and Bishop Robert Barron presents the “moral argument” against same-sex marriage.


Related front page panorama photo credit: Adapted by WhoWhatWhy from protest (Rob Thurman / Flickr – CC BY-NC 2.0).

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