BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — In 2018 a Kern County judge ruled that local baker Cathy Miller could refuse to design and make a wedding cake for a lesbian couple citing her First Amendment rights. Now that case is back in court with the state’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing suing the bakery owner on behalf of that couple.
This legal battle started back in 2017 and continued Monday with both legal teams making their opening statements to a room full of audience members supporting both parties.
A cake is at the center of the five-year debate. A cake that Eileen and Mireya Rodriguez wanted but did not get from Tastries Bakeries due to a policy the bakery has of not designing anything it says goes against the Christian faith. The owner, Cathy Miller, says she believes marriage should only be between a man and a woman.
"From our perspective, making a cake is called expressive speech, and that is what the judge did as part of the first part of the case," said Charles Limandri, special counsel representing Cathy Miller.
Limandri is talking about the first time the case was in court at the county level.
Now that the state is representing the couple, the argument he says is the same. That the wedding cake expresses a message that goes against Miller's religious beliefs.
However, lawyers for the couple who was denied the cake argue that the policy goes against California's Unruh Civil Rights Act, which provides protection from discrimination by business establishments on the basis of race, ethnicity, and freedom of speech.
What is the Unruh Civil Rights Act?
The unruh civil rights act provides protection from discrimination by all business establishments in California, including housing and public accommodations. The term “business establishments” may include governmental and public entities as well.
The language of the Unruh Civil Rights Act specifically outlaws discrimination in housing and public accommodations based on sex, race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, disability, medical condition, genetic information, marital status, sexual orientation, citizenship, primary language, or immigration status. However, the California Supreme Court has held that protections under the Unruh Act are not necessarily restricted to these characteristics.
The Act is meant to cover all arbitrary and intentional discrimination by a business establishment on the basis of personal characteristics similar to those listed above.
23ABC reached out to the legal team for the couple who in a statement said: "The California Civil Rights Department (formerly DFEH) filed the discrimination complaint against Tastries Bakery because it violated state anti-discrimination law. CCRD is committed to protecting the rights of everyone to access goods and services in the marketplace and we look forward to presenting the case in court."
Both parties did argue they had damages, with the legal defense for the couple claiming emotional and statutory damages and the counsel for Miller breaking down the economic impact this had on her business. Although Limandri clarifies they are not seeking money.
The legal team for the couple claims that in order to comply with the Unruh Civil Rights Act, Miller will have to sell wedding cakes to everyone regardless of sexual orientation or not sell wedding cakes at all. They also want the judge to order anti-discrimination posters and training for Miller's business.
On the flip side, Miller’s team claims she has no problem selling other items to people from the LGBTQ+ community but cannot in her own faith sell a wedding cake due to the nature of the celebration and says that is why she referred the couple and other same-sex couples seeking wedding cakes to a bakery she knows will provide the service.
Miller's lawyer says he expects the trial to last all week with closing statements on Friday.