Since I opened my doors to the public 15 years ago, I’ve made about every cake design that you can imagine. You name it, I’ve probably put it on a cake, or at least been asked whether it was a possibility. And as a business owner, I know — like most other business owners know — that I can decide what we serve, but not who we serve. I wouldn’t want to do that, anyway.
Unfortunately, there’s an effort underway to give businesses a license to discriminate against LGBTQ people. Last week, the Supreme Court heard the case of Jack Phillips, a conservative baker in Colorado who wants the right to turn away LGBTQ customers. Phillips is being represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom, which spends millions of dollars trying to pass anti-LGBTQ laws and pursue cases like this one. At its heart, Phillips’ lawsuit is about discrimination.
Here’s the thing: If a business is open to the public, it must be open to all. We can have rules, set standards and decide what we offer, but we don’t pick and choose who we will serve. For example, if someone came into Charm City Cakes and asked me to make a lasagna, I can say no, because that’s not what we do. But we decided a long time ago as a society that it’s fundamentally un-American to decline to serve someone because of who they are. That’s what Mr. Phillips and anti-LGBTQ activists are trying to do. And if they succeed, it could have a devastating impact on the LGBTQ community and millions of others who unfortunately still find themselves at heightened risk of discrimination.
Do we want a country where people can be turned away for their race, their religion, their sexual orientation or their gender identity? I don’t — and I don’t think most Americans do, either. We’ve had this national conversation before, and we shouldn’t have to force our LGBTQ friends and neighbors to relive it now.
The bottom line is this: It’s my job to make my customers happy — not to tell them how they should be living their lives. While I’ve had dilemmas about design requests in the past, it’s always been about ensuring my customer gets the best possible product, not because of the person ordering it.
I also understand that by providing a cake to someone, it doesn’t mean I endorse everything about that person. I don’t make people fill out a survey about all of their opinions and beliefs before agreeing to sell them a cake, and it would be pretty bizarre if I did. Also, all that paperwork sounds like a nightmare!
I’m grateful to be able to serve a community as vibrant, diverse and resilient as Baltimore. The city is a microcosm of our country: a scrappy place full of folks from all different walks of life. It’s taught me everything I know — including how to accept that other people have different beliefs. But, if someone’s beliefs are used to discriminate, that’s something I can’t accept.
Listen, as a baker, I understand the pride that Phillips most likely has in his business, in his designs. I share these values and that pride in what I do. And, if Jack Phillips is ever in Baltimore, I’d be happy to make him a cake and talk this over. He’s certainly entitled to his beliefs — but not to making anyone else less equal in our society.
Let’s hope the Supreme Court agrees.
Duff Goldman is the owner of Charm City Cakes. He wrote this for the Baltimore Sun.