Let them eat cake. Let everybody eat cake!
In the pastry world, wedding cakes are the epitome of love and celebration, not a political statement. But this is 2017, and even a cake can be controversial: This fall, the Supreme Court will hear the case of a Colorado baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple based on his religious beliefs.
Which brought us to a delicious counterprotest with the theme “Who Can Resist!” in the form of 18 multitiered cakes at Tuesday’s sixth annual Chefs for Equality party at Dock 5 in Union Market.
“If you like cake and dessert and want to get married or celebrate anything, you should be able to get it — as long as you pay for it, right?” said Tressa Wiles of Bayou Bakery, who has created a cake for the event every year. Wiles says that she has never turned down a cake order and is behind the Colorado couple 100 percent. “They wanted their damn cake, and they couldn’t get it. They just wanted to be happy and celebrate. This baker kind of ruined it for them,” she said.
Wiles made a blue-and-yellow cake — the colors of the Human Rights Campaign, host of the fundraiser — for this year’s party. The cakes were displayed along the back wall of the converted warehouse space, most of them variations on a rainbow: Multicolored hearts, flowers and Fluffy Thoughts Cakes’ inventive play on cake as the ultimate dessert: an oversized purple layer cake topped with a slice of blueberry pie, a green macaron, a yellow pastry and a red cupcake — all rendered in cake, fondant and edible glitter.
This party was founded in 2012 when Washington food writer David Hagedorn teamed up with the HRC to benefit Maryland’s Question 6, the state’s same-sex marriage law. Hagedorn wanted the event to be fabulously chic, so he recruited Amaryllis Floral & Event Design, the Ritz-Carlton, and dozens of local chefs and bartenders to participate. They named the event Chefs for Equality — for marriage equality, but also for other issues facing the LGBTQ community.
The format was simple: a few tables for high-ticket dinners (now $10,000 to $30,000 a table) prepared by chefs, 50 or so tasting stations prepared by local restaurants, designer cocktails, live auctions, drag queens and dancing.
And wedding cakes — an entire wall of them, symbolizing both the purpose of the party and the optimism that same-sex marriage would be recognized nationwide.
The event was a success and was held annually for the next four years with plenty to celebrate: The Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act in 2013 and in 2015 ruled that states could not ban same-sex marriage. Polls showed that public support for same-sex marriage was growing faster than anyone had dared dream.
And then Donald Trump was elected president, and the Supreme Court agreed to hear Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, a lawsuit to determine whether a business can deny service to same-sex couples based on religious beliefs.
“We knew we still had a long way to go in terms of equality, but the outlook was positive,” said Hagedorn. “And then the rug was pulled out from under us. But as LBGTQ people, we’re used to having the rug pulled out from under us, and we know it can happen at any moment.”
The case coming to the Supreme Court “would have huge ramifications if we lose,” he said.
The case originated in 2012, after David Mullins and Charlie Craig asked Colorado baker Jack Phillips to make a cake for their wedding reception. Phillips refused, saying that he believed marriage should be restricted to a man and a woman and that creating a cake for a gay wedding would violate his Christian faith.
Mullins and Craig sued based on Colorado’s anti-discrimination laws, which prevent businesses open to the public from refusing service based on race, gender, marital status or sexual orientation.
The case rests on a First Amendment argument: Phillips claims forcing him to sell wedding cakes to same-sex-couples violates his right to free speech. He lost in Colorado courts, which ruled that providing a wedding cake was a business transaction, not a personal endorsement of any specific marriage, and that Phillips was free to express his faith in other ways.
But in June, the Supreme Court agreed to take the case and is expected to hear arguments in November. LGBTQ activists fear that a ruling in favor of Phillips would allow legal discrimination — from bakers, florists, restaurants, photographers, jewelers and any other business — based on a claim of religious belief. The Justice Department recently filed an amicus brief supporting Phillips’s argument.
This is uncharted territory for bakers, who are in the business of making cakes for anyone with a sweet tooth and a reason to celebrate. As the legendary Julia Child once said, “A party without cake is just a meeting.”
So we had to ask: Have you ever turned down an order?
Not one, said the bakers.
Would you make a cake for Attorney General Jeff Sessions, given his department’s support of Phillips?
“Absolutely!” said Wiles. “No questions asked. Zero.”
Tiffany MacIsaac of Buttercream Bakeshop said that she was recently faced — for the first time in her career as a pastry chef — with an order that she wasn’t quite comfortable with. (She declined to share the details of that order, but last January, MacIsaac was involved in a minor controversy over a cake her shop made for one of Donald Trump’s inaugural balls.)
“We wanted to be inclusive, because we don’t believe that anyone should ever be discriminated against if they have a different opinion than us,” she said. “We made the cake and donated the proceeds to a charity we felt strongly about. So if Jeff Sessions wanted a cake, I would make him the best cake I could possibly make — and then I might just give that money to a charity. You can’t expect tolerance if you’re not tolerant as well, no matter how hard it is.”
Besides, cake is supposed to bring people together, right?
“This event is about not discriminating and accepting all human beings,” said Heidi Kabath of the Ritz-Carlton. “Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, and as long as my opinions are respected, I should respect yours as well.
“And everyone should eat cake.”