Around the time the Supreme Court was wrapping up the 90-minute argument Tuesday morning in the case of a baker who refused to make a cake for a gay wedding, two crowds huddled against the cold outside the court, about 50 feet apart from each other.
One group, waving “Justice for Jack” signs, believed that baker Jack C. Phillips shouldn’t have to make a cake if it goes against his religious beliefs. The other, waving rainbow flags, said the Supreme Court shouldn’t allow businesses to discriminate.
From across the street, onlookers could hear congressmen and activists in both groups booming into their microphones at once.
The two parallel rallies outside the court Tuesday morning, each of roughly the same size, expressed the fervent fears that people on both sides of the issue have regarding the outcome of this case. Those supporting Phillips worry they could be compelled to put aside their religious beliefs in the workplace. Those opposing the baker fear undermining civil rights protections not only for gay and lesbian couples but for women, African Americans and many others. Both sides voiced their opinions Tuesday with signs, songs, balloons and Bible verses.
“What’s Christian about discrimination?” one handmade sign said. A man wearing a giant cardboard Bible costume held a sign that said, “Use me not for your bigotry.” Just yards away, other people led moments of prayer for Phillips, and compared his struggle against Colorado’s civil rights law to the biblical story of Daniel in the lion’s den.
Julie Rodgers, a gay Christian who worked in the chaplain’s office at prominent evangelical Wheaton College before resigning because of the institution’s stance toward homosexuality, spoke to the group opposing the cake baker. She speculated that Jesus would say to the gay couple, “They wouldn’t serve you because of the way you’re wired to love? Well, I came to serve people like you.”
Toward the other rally, she said, “I just ask my fellow Christians over there to walk in that spirit of Christ-like love and radical justice.”
On both sides, demonstrators speculated that wedding cake is just the beginning of the implications of the case. The Rev. Raedorah Stewart, a minister at Covenant Baptist United Church of Christ in Southeast Washington, said the case harks back to the Civil Rights movement.
“You’re talking to an African American woman over 60,” she said. “Being a child of the ’60s, I saw signs that said, ‘I’m not going to serve you.’ I have borne the brunt of that discrimination.”
“What’s at stake is the threat of turning back time,” continued Stewart. “It’ll affect gay people today. It’ll affect Jews tomorrow. It’ll affect women even more.”
As a member of the clergy, Stewart says she understands the desire to protect religious freedom, but allowing businesses to turn away customers because of their identity is the wrong way to go about it. “Yeah, I do want legal protections. But when it violates human dignity and equal rights, it violates the core of creation and the One who creates.”
Many people who traveled to the Supreme Court to demonstrate in favor of the baker — some journeying with their church groups from hours away — said they also worried that the ramifications of this case could be far-reaching.
“There’s a battle going on in our nation to take away our freedoms. I don’t think people realize how enormous it is. Things are being taken away from us, little crumbs at a time,” said Sue Good of Manheim, Pa. “Things like this are restricting us as individuals to be free to worship God, free to know his plans for our life. … I don’t want my grandkids to have to live under a dictatorship that says you cannot think a certain way.”
She stood near a demonstrator expressing that fear of the law meddling in individuals’ businesses in a punchier way: a huge poster saying, “The government is not the Cake Boss.”
This post has been updated.