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January 29, 2015

Does the law allow businesses to say ‘no’ to same-sex couples?

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As same-sex marriage becomes legal in a growing number of states, local governments are addressing a debate between same-sex couples and businesses that do not want to serve them.

Two years ago, Colorado baker Jack Phillips said he would not create a wedding cake for a same-sex couple. Same-sex marriage was legalized in Colorado last October, making the marriage legal under Colorado state law.

Phillips said that baking a cake for a same-sex wedding was against his Christian religious beliefs and his choice should be protected under the First Amendment. “I feel like I’m discriminated against,” he said.

But Phillips’ religious practice does not extend to denying customers equal service in a public setting, according to Amanda Goad, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union who is representing the couple.

“It’s always been the case in America that you have the right to believe whatever you would like to believe and to practice that faith. That doesn’t go so far as to mean that you can practice your faith in ways that exclude other people from public life and cause harm to other people,” Goad said.

Same-sex marriage is now legal in 36 states and the District in Columbia, with a Supreme Court decision on the issue set to happen this year. In 21 states, businesses are prohibited from denying service due to a customer’s sexual orientation. Colorado is one of those states; its laws state that businesses open to the public cannot discriminate against customers based on race, gender or sexual orientation.

David Mullins, one of the men turned away from cake maker Philips, said he felt like a “second-class citizen” when he was denied service. “It makes you feel like you matter less than the person standing next to you.”


Warm up questions
  1. What right does the First Amendment to the Constitution protect?
  2. Why was a Civil Rights Act passed in 1964? Who was it designed to protect and how?
  3. Using the maps below, calculate the percent of states where same-sex marriage is legal now and was legal in 2012.
  • Do you see any patterns between the two maps?
  • What factors do you believe contributed to the shift  in same-sex marriage’s legal status by state?
gaymarriage
Critical thinking questions
  1. The baker’s lawyer claims that, “This case is about the government forcing Jack to express a message that is deeply at odds with his convictions.” Do you agree? What ramifications might this case have within the state of Colorado and possibly across the country?
  2. The couple’s lawyer argued, “It’s always been the case in America that you have the right to believe whatever you would like to believe and to practice that faith. That doesn’t go so far as to mean that you can practice your faith in ways that exclude other people from public life and cause harm to other people.” Do you agree with this statement? Explain your answer.
  3. Both sides of the battle believe that their point of view is supported by the law – the First Amendment and the Civil Rights Act and CADA. Imagine you are the judge who must decide which side is legally right, who would you rule in favor of and why?
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