Equality Illinois, state’s LGBTQ civil rights organization, says cake case has far-reaching impact

Brian C. Johnson, CEO of Equality Illinois

December 5, 2017

The Colorado case of the baker who refused to make a wedding cake for same-sex couples, the subject of oral arguments on Tuesday before the U.S. Supreme Court, could lead to harm against Illinoisans. The justices could create a license to discriminate against same-sex couples and begin to dismantle civil rights protections for LGBTQ people across the country, including here in Illinois. Furthermore, it could eviscerate our country’s civil rights protections going back decades and leave the door open to a return to rampant discrimination against African-Americans, women and a myriad of other Americans.

The key question at hand: Whether the owner of a bakery who refused to bake a wedding cake, which he calls his “art,” for a same-sex couple must follow the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act that applies to public places like hotels, restaurants, bars and bakeries. If the Supreme Court creates that right to refuse, the decision could have far-ranging impacts on LGBTQ people in Illinois.

The Illinois Human Rights Act is similar to the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act. Both protect many people — including LGBTQ people — from discrimination in places of public accommodations.

You don’t expect to see a sign with the words “Your Kind Not Welcome Here” displayed in Illinois in 2017. That’s because, consistent with our values of fairness and freedom, the Illinois Human Rights Act bans discrimination by restaurants, hotels and other entities that serve the public. And, since 2006, that Human Rights Act has protected LGBTQ people from far-reaching discrimination. In short, you can’t be a business that claims to be open to all and then bar the door to LGBTQ people.

Those who support the bakery owner claim that the state should grant him a right to discriminate based on his religious beliefs. The First Amendment already protects the owner’s freedom to practice his religion. What the bakery owner seeks is broader and more dangerous: a free pass to discriminate against LGBTQ people, or really any group of people, so long as he can claim his desire to discriminate stems from his religious beliefs.

Also, let’s be clear: this is not just about a wedding cake. Anti-LGBTQ discrimination would be legal, from cradle to grave. A hotel in Danville could turn away a gay couple. A restaurant in Rockford could refuse to serve a lesbian couple. A hospital in Moline could prevent a same-sex partner from visiting their loved one. A paramedic in Edwardsville could refuse to provide life-saving care. And a funeral home in Oak Park could refuse to prepare the body of a gay man for burial. We already see some of these actions happening in states without anti-discrimination protections.

Depending on the Supreme Court’s decision, such discriminatory behavior could soon be legal in states with anti-discrimination laws, like Illinois. This is not what Illinoisans want.

We want a state where all people — including LGBTQ people — are equally welcomed in public spaces across the state. The court’s decision could further lead to the dismantling of our civil rights law for everyone. Once the door is cracked open against LGBTQ people, anti-equality attorneys, plaintiffs and organizations will bring case after case to shove the door of discrimination wide open. The court’s decision could open the door to legal discrimination against people based on race, religion, gender, age, disability status and other protected categories.

What can we do? We at Equality Illinois are educating and urging our elected officials to aggressively support our anti-discrimination laws and ensure we keep building a better Illinois. For instance, on Wednesday night, a forum on LGBTQ issues will be held with Democratic gubernatorial candidates at Chicago’s Second Presbyterian Church, when LGBTQ people and allies are going to push the candidates to tell us how they will make the lives of LGBTQ people in Illinois better.

We hope the Supreme Court will take the side of justice and fairness and preserve those laws that have advanced dignity and justice for historically marginalized communities. Either way, we will continue to fight anti-LGBTQ discrimination with the tools available to us and defend the values that make Illinois a welcoming state for all people. We will fight for fairness, inclusion, and the freedom to be who you are without burden or discrimination.

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