A truce in the gay cake wars: My compromise.

I Am Ready to Declare a Truce in the Gay Cake Wars

I Am Ready to Declare a Truce in the Gay Cake Wars

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Expanding the LGBTQ Conversation
Jan. 23 2015 11:57 AM

I Am Ready to Declare a Truce in the Gay Cake Wars

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An exhibit at the 2014 Gay Wedding Show in Leeds, England.

Photo by Nigel Roddis/Getty Images

The gay cake wars are, by a long shot, the stupidest thing I have ever covered. They are so inane that they make me want to quit my job and become a bricklayer in a faraway country with no Internet connection. I, along with the rest of America, would surely be much happier, healthier, and more fulfilled if we never had to contemplate the gay cake wars again. In light of this exhaustion, I am offering a truce.

Mark Joseph Stern Mark Joseph Stern

Mark Joseph Stern covers courts and the law for Slate.

Here is the latest skirmish in these wars, which, again, are astonishingly dumb. Bill Jack, a Christian customer at a gay-friendly cake store in Colorado, recently asked a baker to craft a cake depicting a gay couple holding hands—with a large “X” over them, along with the words “God hates gays.” The baker refused, citing her personal beliefs. Now the customer has complained to state officials, claiming he was subject to religious discrimination.

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This kerfuffle is almost certainly manufactured in response to a successful Colorado lawsuit against a baker who refused to bake a gay couple a wedding cake. Perhaps Jack is being paid to spur a test case for some anti-gay legal group; maybe he’s just a cake war vigilante. Either way, the obvious purpose of Jack’s experiment is to illustrate why bakers should have the freedom of conscience to bake whatever they want.

And you know what? Fine. To the Bill Jacks of the world, I offer a truce in the cake wars, contingent on the following compromise: Let’s embrace laws that require bakers to serve any customers who walk into their store—gay, Christian, trans, black, Jewish, whatever. But let’s also embrace the principle—hell, we can even make it a law—that bakers won’t be forced to write, design, or otherwise depict any message they disagree with. An anti-gay baker doesn’t have to write “congratulations on your marriage!” on a cake for a same-sex couple. A pro-gay baker doesn’t have to write “God hates gays” on a cake for a Christian.

This might sound like a reasonable, even generous compromise. And I am completely serious about it. But I am also extremely confident that the Bill Jacks of the world will not accept it. Why?  Because the cake wars were never about what was written on a cake. The cake wars were about who was buying the cake. The Colorado baker who was sued by a gay couple didn’t face penalties because he refused to write “congratulations on your marriage” atop the cake. He was sued because he refused to sell the gay couple a cake at all, simply because they were gay. The baker wasn’t sanctioned for refusing to depict a pro-gay message. He was sanctioned for openly discriminating against gay customers by refusing to provide them a basic service.

That’s the key distinction between Bill Jack’s complaint and the scattering of lawsuits across the country seeking to enforce gay nondiscrimination ordinances. It is a crucial distinction—legally, factually, and morally—but it appears to be lost on the anti-gay crowd, who believe a baker's ability to discriminate against gay people is a vital part of “freedom.” These dimwitted views are so profoundly asinine that I fear there’s not much I can do to rectify them. I have offered a truce, and I mean to stand by it. But I regret to say that the terms of my compromise will likely do nothing to mollify the hardline conservatives who will not rest until everyone can claim a legal right to degrade, debase, and demean gay Americans. 

Want to hang out with Outward? If you’ll be in or near New York City on Feb. 3, join June Thomas, J. Bryan Lowder, and Mark Joseph Stern—and special guest Lea DeLaria ofOrange Is the New Black fame!for a queer kiki at the first ever Outward LIVE show, hosted by City Winery. Details and tickets can be found here.