Two queer members of the CUNY Law community on the Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission ruling.
By Professor Allie Robbins (’09) and Lisa Zayas (’11)
Whenever anything big happens, we ask each other, what will we tell our son?
Our goal is to raise a kind, compassionate, person. We want him to be happy and to see the good in the world. But it’s also important to us that he knows that some people might treat him differently just because of who he is, and who his mommies are. (For some context, our son is not yet three years old. His main concerns are Paw Patrol and the metamorphosis of the caterpillars in his daycare classroom.)
On Monday, the Supreme Court sided with the baker in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. We have had to process our feelings, and figure out what we might want to tell him. Since Monday, a lot has been written about how narrow the decision is, and how queer folks have nothing to be afraid of. It’s not open season on discrimination.
Yes, thankfully the decision is narrow. But many are. Narrow decisions can be expanded over time. That’s part of what we were trained to do at CUNY Law School, to take a narrow decision, and argue the need to apply it to a new set of facts and slowly expand it. We are prepared to tell our son that people who say they can now discriminate against queer people because of their religious beliefs are not right. That is not what the Supreme Court said. But they may still try. People don’t always read full Supreme Court opinions, especially long ones with multiple concurrences. So, it is our duty as his parents to tell him that he has to be vigilant, know his rights, and know how to get help if something happens. While our son is still too young to comprehend what is happening in the world, we always tell him to find the helpers, the people who are helping when times are bad.
We have to tell him that it’s ok if this decision makes him feel bad. The Supreme Court looked at a man who denied a wedding cake to a couple because they were having a same sex wedding, and decided that he was the one who was discriminated against. The inarticulate comments of a couple of commissioners at the first stage of due process were given more weight than layers of subsequent adjudication. That hurts. It’s ok to feel sad and angry about that. It’s ok to feel like the justices engaged in legal gymnastics to reach their decision, and that they were wrong.
What do we tell him about what comes next? What do we say when he is afraid that someone might not want to sell him cookies anymore because of who his mommies are, or that his daycare might decide that he can’t go to school there anymore because someone’s sincerely held religious beliefs are counter to the use of assisted reproductive technology? We tell him that we don’t know exactly what comes next. We don’t know where the next case will come from, and we can’t control what the people around us do, or how they might skew this opinion for their own false righteousness. But we also tell him that our job is to be proud of who we are and to be authentic. We must celebrate life and celebrate who we are. We must also continue to fight.
We know how quickly change can happen (though we also know that progress actually takes long time, a lot of hard work, and movement building). We have witnessed and benefited from an enormous amount of change, even over the short course of our relationship. That change has allowed us to get legally married and have a son whose birth certificate bears both of our names. But the rapid nature of change also means that progress can be also rolled back quickly. We need to make sure that doesn’t happen. We need stronger anti-discrimination laws. We need to keep fighting in courtrooms, legislatures, in the streets, and in our communities. We need to remain vigilant and visible. We will continue to remind him that it’s Pride month, and that Pride and visibility matter. In fact, they change the course of history.
Of course, we will also tell him that we will read him “that dinosaur book” one more time before bed.