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SCOTUS Could Shape Outcome Of Oregon Same-Sex Wedding Cake Case

<p>In this March 10, 2014 photo, Masterpiece Cakeshop owner Jack Phillips decorates a cake inside his store, in Lakewood, Colorado.</p>

Brennan Linsley

In this March 10, 2014 photo, Masterpiece Cakeshop owner Jack Phillips decorates a cake inside his store, in Lakewood, Colorado.

The Supreme Court’s decision to hear a case in Colorado involving a baker who refused to sell a wedding cake to a gay couple could resolve a nearly identical case moving through the courts in Oregon.

The nation’s high court will consider whether or not religious liberties and free speech arguments outweigh those of a couple who say they were discriminated against.

In 2013, Charlie Craig and David Mullins, a gay couple in Denver, filed a complaint with the state after the owner of Masterpiece Cakes refused to sell them a wedding cake.

The Colorado Civil Rights Commission found Jack Phillips, the cake shop owner, violated the state's Anti-Discrimination Act. Phillips filed a complaint with the court, arguing the government is violating his free speech rights.

The high court's ruling could provide clarity in a number of cases involving flower shop owners, photographers and bakers who have cited similar religious convictions and free speech arguments as their basis for refusing to provide services for same-sex weddings.

Sweet Cakes by Melissa, a now shuttered bakery in Gresham, Oregon, refused to sell a wedding cake to a lesbian couple — Laurel and Rachel Bowman-Cryer — in 2013. Like Phillips in Colorado, the Oregon bakery owners — Melissa and Aaron Klein — refused to make a wedding cake for same-sex ceremonies because of their Christian beliefs.

In July 2015, the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries awarded $135,000 to the Bowman-Cryers. The ruling was appealed by the Kleins and argued before the Oregon Court of Appeals in March.

“In many ways there are a lot of parallels between this case and that one," said P.K. Runkles-Pearson, who filed an amicus brief on behalf of Bowman-Cryer. "It's a similar case procedurally, but we're at an earlier stage than the Masterpiece case."

Runkles-Pearson said the Sweet Cakes by Melissa case, and others like it, are challenges to anti-discrimination laws.

"At least in every case that I'm familiar with, so far, it has gone in favor of the gay couple," she said.

In February, the Washington State Supreme Court unanimously ruled a Richland flower shop owner, Barronelle Stutzman, violated the state's anti-discrimination law by refusing flowers for gay couple's wedding.

Stutzman filed an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court.

Attorneys for the gay couple are anticipating the case might be reviewed by the high court as part of the cake case out of Colorado.

"What the bakers or the photographers or the florists are saying is that my religion gives me a license to discriminate because I don't agree with the fact that you're gay," Runkles-Pearson said. "The courts are rightly upholding the legitimacy of anti-discrimination laws."

Attorneys for Sweet Cakes by Melissa are pleased the U.S. Supreme Court is taking up the Colorado case, not only because the similarities, but also because they believe the justices will rule in favor of Masterpiece Cakes.

"Small businesses like Masterpiece Cakes Shop and Sweet Cakes by Melissa shouldn't be shut down and fined just because they refuse to speak the government's message about same-sex marriage," said Adam Gustafson, the Washington, D.C.-based attorney for the Kleins. "The First Amendment protects free speech and religious exercise even when it's unpopular."

Gustafson said he plans to file a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court, which will hear oral arguments in the Colorado case when their term begins in October.

Northwest News Network correspondent Anna King contributed to this report from Richland, Washington.

Copyright 2017 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Conrad Wilson is a reporter and producer covering criminal justice and legal affairs for OPB.