The Supreme Court has issued a verdict on a much-buzzed-about case.
On Monday, the nation’s highest court issued a verdict on Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, ruling in favor of a bakery owner who refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple. The verdict was a 7-2 decision, with Justice Anthony Kennedy writing for the majority opinion.
“The Colorado Civil Rights Commission’s consideration of this case was inconsistent with the state’s obligation of religious neutrality,” he wrote. “The reason and motive for the baker’s refusal were based on his sincere religious beliefs and convictions.”
It’s a decision that’s been more than five years in the making, revolving around a 2012 incident in which Jack Phillips, the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, Colorado, declined to bake a cake for David Mullins and Charlie Craig. Phillips offered the couple other baked goods, but refused to make them one of his signature custom cakes for the occasion, citing his religious belief that marriage is between a man and a woman.
Mullins and Craig said they left the bakery in tears, feeling “mortified” and “degraded.” Following the oral arguments in December, the couple told PEOPLE: “We don’t want another loving couple to have to go through what we did. It’s not about the cake; it’s about us being discriminated against because we’re gay.”
The pair filed charges with the Civil Rights Commission in Colorado, which is one of the minority of states that includes sexual orientation along with race, gender and religion in its anti-discrimination laws. After the Commission ordered him to treat heterosexual and homosexual couples equally, Phillips stopped making wedding cakes altogether, and claimed he lost around 40% of his business in doing so.
Phillips then took his case to the Supreme Court, arguing that forcing him to cater to same-sex weddings was a violation of his First Amendment right to free speech. Though many gay and civil rights activists worry of the broader implications the verdict could have on a business’s ability to discriminate against customers for their sexual orientation, the American Civil Liberties Union (who represented the couple in court) says it is confident this decision is confined to this particular case.
“The court did not accept arguments that would have turned back the clock on equality by making our basic civil rights protections unenforceable, but reversed this case based on concerns specific to the facts here,” they said.
On Twitter, they added: “Colorado law prohibits discrimination based on who you are. We’re confident the courts will once again rule that businesses don’t have a right to discriminate.”
In December, the Trump administration sided with Phillips, filing a brief on his behalf. “A custom wedding cake is not an ordinary baked good; its function is more communicative and artistic than utilitarian,” wrote Solicitor General Noel Francisco. “Accordingly, the government may not enact content-based laws commanding a speaker to engage in protected expression: An artist cannot be forced to paint, a musician cannot be forced to play, and a poet cannot be forced to write.”
The idea that a cake is a form of artistic speech was at the heart of Phillips’ case, and he says his art is heavily influenced by his Christian faith. “Masterpiece because that indicates art, cakeshop because it’s art that’s involved with cakes,” he previously told PEOPLE of the bakery’s name. “I knew that as a follower of Jesus Christ, his Sermon on the Mount says that no man can serve two masters and so I knew everything I’d do in the shop I’d do to honor him—something that would glorify him.”
The two dissenting justices were Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor. Ginsburg wrote in her dissent that “Phillips declined to make a cake he found offensive where the offensiveness of the product was determined solely by the identity of the customer requesting it,” adding, “I see no reason why the comments of one or two Commissioners should be taken to overcome Phillips’ refusal to sell a wedding cake.”