BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) — A California judge on Monday night ruled in favor of the owner of Tastries Barkery, who the State of California argued in court engaged in unlawful discrimination when she decided not sell a custom wedding cake to a gay couple.
A professing Christian, Cathy Miller says she will sell gay people anything else in her bakery, but will not be made to celebrate a ceremony her faith finds objectionable. Miller and her attorneys equate designing a custom cake with speech and say California compelling speech she doesn't agree with violates her own constitutional rights.
Kern County Judge David Lampe published an opinion Monday night that said in part that "the right to free speech under the First Amendment outweighs the state's interest in ensuring a freely accessible marketplace."
The conflict began in August when a lesbian couple attempted to buy a wedding cake from Tastries, but was referred instead to a competing bakery. Miller told Eileen and Mireya Rodriguez-Del Rio she couldn't complete their order because of her religious beliefs about marriage.
The women filed a complaint with California's Department of Fair Housing and Employment, which began an investigation that remains open.
At the outset of the investigation, lawyers for the DFHE sought an injunction that would force Miller to sell wedding cakes to gay couples or stop selling wedding cakes to anyone. It's that request that Lampe denied Monday night.
Lampe wrote that the state's goal to stop discrimination is a "laudable and necessary public goal," but that "for this court to force such compliance would do violence to the essentials of Free Speech."
An attorney for the couple said Tuesday she's not surprised by the ruling. Patricia Ziegler-Lopez sent Eyewitness News a written statement that says in part, "Bakersfield and Kern County in general is very conservative and that unfortunately includes some of the judges. But it's not over. Our fight against bigotry and discrimination is only beginning."
Miller said Tuesday morning that God won in court and while she has dealt with threats and harassment from those who are upset with her decision, the local community has shown her strong support. She's glad that society is giving consideration to the tension that exists between competing values of tolerance and free speech.
"The community and the government is starting to see that we have an issue that needs to be resolved," she said. "And I think that's really good."
The Supreme Court is expected to issue a ruling in June in "Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission," a case with strong similarities to the Tastries case.
The DFHE did not respond Tuesday to our request for comment about Lampe's ruling.
Lawyers for Miller said Tuesday that they believe they can use Lampe's opinion to strike down any lawsuit that the state or Ziegler-Lopez may bring on behalf of the couple in the future.