So what are the consequences on pride of the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, the case billed by many as the follow-up to the legalization of gay marriage? Masterpiece pitted a Christian baker, Jack Phillips, against the gay couple for whom he, citing his religious beliefs, refused to bake a wedding cake.
Masterpiece seems to be a case about gay rights. And the Court’s decision in favor of the baker seems to be a blow against the gay community. Many fear that such a decision will open the floodgates for widespread discrimination. But I think this fear is misplaced. The Court’s decision is actually no loss for the community and should not injure any BGLTQ person’s pride.
At its core, Masterpiece is really about freedom of speech. A possible implication of a victory for the gay couple—that artists will be forced to take a customer’s business and create products conveying messages that they do not believe in—is dangerous for everyone. For example, I think that a Muslim man should not have to bake a cake with denigrating images of the prophet Muhammad on it. Or, to flip Masterpiece’s scenario on its head, a gay man should not have to bake a cake with homophobic messages for anti-gay crusaders.
Freedom of speech does not equal freedom from consequences. In Phillips’s case, he would pay an economic price for his choices. Meanwhile, BGLTQ customers would still have choices of their own—near Phillips’s bakery, there were at least 67 other bakeries that would happily have created wedding cakes for such customers.
Furthermore, a victory would have brought the BGLTQ community its own pain. When I imagine myself in the Masterpiece scenario, I cannot help but ask, why would I even want a cake from a baker who didn’t want to make me one? Why should I spend another cent, another second on that baker? Winning a case against the baker who refused to bake me a cake would undoubtedly release a flood of emotions. I imagine I’d feel righteousness, vengeance, defiance—all emotions I would not be wrong to feel.
But I would not feel pride. There would be no pride in eating a cake baked by someone who believes that I will rot in hell for eternity. There would be no pride in handing money to such a person. I can encounter homophobia every day, so there would be no pride in choosing to mar a day as special as my own wedding with yet another reminder.
Ultimately, despite being hyped as its sequel, Masterpiece v. Colorado is no Obergefell v. Hodges. That 2015 case, which legalized gay marriage, was certainly a resounding victory for BGLTQ rights and pride. The second definition of “pride” in the New Oxford American Dictionary is “the consciousness of one’s own dignity”—and fittingly, in Obergefell’s majority opinion, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy essentially created a new doctrine of dignity. After invoking the word nine times, he concluded that BGLTQ people “ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law” and that “the Constitution grants them that right.” The legalization of gay marriage validated a significant, though by no means the only, channel of gay pride.
That heightened consciousness of my own dignity, spurred by the Obergefell decision, is why I will never forget where I was on June 26, 2015, when I discovered the happy news in a Roman hotel room half a world away. Though I was not about to get married anytime soon, was apathetic about the institution of marriage, and did not even know anything about love, I felt a very basic pride in my own humanity, a pride I didn’t know I’d lacked.
But I will not long remember where I was on June 4, 2018. Unlike in Obergefell, pride was never at stake in Masterpiece. So when I look at the Masterpiece decision through the lens of pride, I do not see a great loss. I see a victory for another worthy ideal, freedom of speech. I see a baker who can keep his pride in his artistry—but more importantly, I see that the people he turns down can keep their pride too.
We can walk right out of a shop like Phillips’s with heads high, find those who will bake us a cake out of more than mere obligation, and eat triumphantly on one of the proudest days of our lives. In this age more than in any before, we can display our pride publicly. And we should, for if our love is sin then why fear a little too much pride?
Michelle I. Gao ’21, a Crimson editorial editor, lives in Adams House. Her column appears on alternate Thursdays.
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