I have a friend — an artist (by which I mean an actual, no-shit, serious artist who not only makes art, but thinks about art and the nature of art and what is meant when we use the term ‘art’) — who recently said he wasn’t sure how he felt about the whole Masterpiece Cakeshop situation. To which I have two responses.
First, what the fuck does that even mean? How can you not know how you feel about something? I can totally understand having mixed feelings. I can understand having contradictory feelings. But surely it’s pretty obvious how you feel about any given thing at any given moment because you’re actually in the process of feeling it.
Second, stop over-thinking the Masterpiece Cakeshop situation. Which probably leads a lot of folks to this question: what the hell is the Masterpiece Cakeshop situation? It’s your basic situation in which a Christian doesn’t want to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple. There’s a good chance you already think this crap has already been settled, and you’d be mostly right. The law is pretty clear. If you’re providing goods or a service to the public for commercial reasons, then you have to provide those goods and that service to ALL the public. Even if you don’t like or approve of them.
If you run a rental agency, you can’t refuse to rent a folding table to a Muslim just because you hate Muslims. If you run a landscaping business, you can’t refuse to landscape the lawn of a Thai family just because you dislike Asians. And if you bake cakes for a living, you can’t refuse to bake a cake for a same-sex couple just because you think homosexuality is evil.
A baker can refuse to bake a cake if the customer is requesting a personally objectionable decoration. You can refuse to bake cake in the shape of a penis. You can refuse to decorate a cake with I ♣ My Wife. You can probably refuse to bake and decorate a cake if the customer behaves like an asshole. But you can’t refuse to bake a cake simply because you object to the customer’s race, gender, marital status, religion, and all that.
But here’s why the Masterpiece Cakes situation is a situation — and why my artist friend and his feelings are so confused. A baker named Jack Phillips, who owns a bakery called Masterpiece Cakeshop, refused, for religious reasons, to bake a custom wedding cake for a same-sex couple. He also refuses for religious reasons to make cakes that celebrate Halloween or a divorce, and he won’t bake a cake that includes alcohol. What makes this situation a situation, though, is that Phillips is NOT claiming he won’t bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple because they’re gay, but because they’re getting married. His religion states marriage should only be between a man and a woman. He says,
“I’m being forced to use my creativity, my talents and my art for an event — a significant religious event — that violates my religious faith.”
In other words, Phillips sees his custom cakes as works of art, and he shouldn’t be required to make art that offends his personal sensibilities (in this case, it’s his religious sensibilities). His lawyers argue that forcing him to create a custom cake for a same-sex wedding threatens the “expressive freedom of all who create art or other speech for a living.” And let’s face it, the law wouldn’t force a Jewish painter to accept a commission to paint a portrait of Hitler. The law wouldn’t force a Mormon sculptor to accept a commission to sculpt a giant stone dildo with the face of LDS founder Joseph Smith. So why should the law force Christian Jack Phillips to accept a commission to create a cake celebrating a marital union his religion opposes?
It’s because of this free expression argument that the Masterpiece Cakeshop situation is a situation. This is why four of the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court have agreed to hear arguments on the case at some point in this term. And hey, if we agree that art is protected by the free expression clause of the First Amendment (and it is), and if we agree that decorating a cake can be a work of art (and sure, it can be), then that sounds like a solid argument in favor of Phillips.
But it’s not. It’s just bullshit with vanilla icing.
It’s bullshit for this reason: it’s still about the wedding. it’s about the purpose of the cake, not the decoration. Let’s say the gentlemen who wanted the cake asked Phillips to create a three-tier wedding cake decorated with rainbow hearts and with two tuxedoed male figures arranged side by side on top. Phillips refuses, saying he shouldn’t be required to use his talents to create a custom wedding cake because his religious views oppose same-sex marriage. Now let’s say those same gentlemen asked Phillips to create a three-tier birthday cake decorated with rainbow hearts and with two tuxedoed male figures arranged side by side on top. Unless his religious views forbid him from celebrating birthdays, he’d be required to make the cake.
It’s the same damned cake using the same ingredients with the same decorations created using the same artistic skills. The only difference is the purpose, and the purpose in the Masterpiece Cakeshop situation is to discriminate against folks having a same-sex marriage.
It’s not about art and it’s not about free expression; it’s about refusing to obey laws against discrimination.