The Supreme Court heard arguments on Tuesday in a case that could shield non-heterosexual Americans from discrimination in the marketplace.
Justices listened to opening proceedings in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. At hand, is whether a baker in Colorado can be penalized for refusing to make a wedding cake for a same sex couple.
Earlier this week, Justices showed an interest in pumping the brakes on civil rights. On Monday, the majority-conservative body declined to take up a case out of Houston that could have ensured same-sex couples receive public employment benefits afforded to married couples.
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner asked the court to clarify a previous stance to require states and cities to grant benefits to same-sex spouses of public sector workers.
During Tuesday’s proceedings, Justice Anthony Kennedy offered no clear signal of where his crucial swing vote would fall.
According to the New York Times, Kennedy claimed that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission had “neither been tolerant nor respectful of Mr. Phillips’s religious beliefs.” But he also acknowledged a troublesome consequence of ruling on behalf of the baker: shops putting signs in their window reading: “We don’t bake cakes for gay weddings.”
Kennedy sided with liberal Justices in two recent landmark 5-4 decisions. In 2012, after United States v. Windsor, the Court struck down the federal prohibition on same-sex marriage, the so-called Defense of Marriage Act. In 2015, the court went further after Obergefell v Hodges, and ruled that gay couples have a right to marriage.
Tuesday’s matter before the court also marked the first time that Trump nominee Neil Gorsuch will rule on a matter involving gay rights. He replaced Antonin Scalia, who was a reliable vote against the LGBTQ community during his time on the bench, before he died in 2016.
Whatever the outcome of Masterpiece Cakeshop, the decision to not hear Houston’s lawsuit shows some resistance by the Roberts Court in ruling on behalf of civil rights for same-sex couples.
The city, which began offering employment benefits to gay couples in 2013, has been under pressure by Republican state leadership in Texas to halt the practice. The Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and Attorney General all filed briefs in a pending state Supreme Court case to halt Houston’s payouts to same sex couples.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton released a statement following the Supreme Court’s decision Monday to not take up the case, saying he was “pleased.”
“The right to a marriage license does not entitle same-sex couples to employee benefits at the expense of Texas taxpayers,” Paxton said.