Experts say Supreme Court decision in favor of Colorado baker will have limited impact

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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - A Colorado cake shop owner gets a taste of victory Monday after a decision from the nation’s highest court. The Supreme Court ruled seven to two in favor of Jack Phillips who refused to sell a customized wedding cake to a same-sex couple because of his religious beliefs.

Louis Michael Seidman says the majority Justices took a diplomatic approach in writing the final opinion.

The gay couple, Charlie Craig and David Mullins, argued that was discriminatory and a state court agreed. But Monday the Supreme Court flipped the decision, with the majority finding Colorado’s Civil Rights Commission didn’t fairly consider Phillips’ beliefs.

Cases in front of the country’s highest court frequently divide its five conservative and four liberal justices. But, they reached a compromise by only taking a small bite out of this case.

“Instead of drawing sharp lines and deciding a case in a way that would increase polarization, he decided to steer a middle course,” said Louis Michael Seidman, a Constitutional Law professor at Georgetown University.

Justice Anthony Kennedy’s majority opinion says Colorado didn’t treat Phillips fairly, but Justice Kennedy says if a similar case comes up in the future it’s not guaranteed to produce the same outcome. Seidman says that the limited impact could help avoid a culture war.

“They did not say that mere religious belief trumps all of our obligations to obey statutes that promote equality,” said Seidman.

The ruling is a win for Phillips. But those on the other side of the issue, say they can swallow losing just this one case. Sarah Warbelow, legal director at the Human Rights Campaign says by limiting the decision to just this case, the ruling protects the civil rights of everyone else.

“The court did affirm the dignity of LGBTQ people and that neutrally applied no-discrimination laws can continue to exist,” said Warbelow.

While the decision leaves Colorado’s anti-discrimination law intact, Phillips will no longer need to follow the Commission’s order to sell same-sex couples whatever he would sell opposite-gender couples.