A popular Chapel Hill chef joined hundreds from across the country on Monday at the U.S. Supreme Court to oppose a Colorado baker who refused to make a cake for a gay couple’s wedding.
Bill Smith Jr., a longtime chef at Crook’s Corner restaurant, a cookbook author and a James Beard Foundation award winner, was one of 240 chefs, restaurateurs and bakers who have signed on to a “friend of the court” brief saying that a business should not get to discriminate against people based on whom they love.
The case, to be argued in December before the Supreme Court, dates back to 2012, when Jack Phillips, a baker in the Denver area, refused to design a wedding cake for Charlie Craig and David Mullins, citing his religious beliefs that marriage should be between a man and a woman.
The couple he declined to serve complained of discrimination to the Colorado Civil Rights Commission. The commission ruled for the men, and the courts have followed.
Never miss a local story.
Now the case — Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission — has drawn nationwide interest for the legal questions it poses.
The Supreme Court justices will be asked to weigh claims of religious freedom against laws that ban businesses open to the public from discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Phillips has contended in court documents that his right to free speech allows him to decline to make cakes celebrating marriages that conflict with his religious beliefs, saying his custom-made wedding cakes are his artistic expression.
The Trump administration has sided with the baker in a “friend of the court” brief, saying forcing him “to create expression for and participate in a ceremony that violates his sincerely held religious beliefs invades his First Amendment rights.”
LGBT advocates contend that gay and lesbian couples are entitled to equal treatment from businesses that open their doors to Main Street.
On Monday, while much of the country was focused on the federal indictments against key members of the Trump campaign, Smith and other chefs stood alongside a cart wheeled around the Supreme Court building in Washington, loaded with a stack of Georgetown Cupcake treats.
“It’s a privilege to be here; it’s something I believe in,” Smith said during a news conference in front of the Supreme Court. “I also feel like it’s my duty, honestly, as a citizen of the country and of the world.
“We’re counting on the Supreme Court to stand up for our ideals.”
Other North Carolina chefs to sign the brief were Amy Cavanaugh of Limones in Asheville, Joe Scully of Westmoreland & Scully in Asheville, and Bonnie Warford of Earl’s Grocery in Charlotte.
“The culinary community has joined this brief to relay a very simple message: ‘We welcome all,’” Sarah Warbelow, legal director for the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement. “If a business is open on Main Street, it must be open to everyone, regardless of who they are or whom they love. It is important for the nation and the Supreme Court to affirm the equal dignity of every single American.”
In September, PlayMakers Repertory Company in Chapel Hill presented “The Cake,” with a story that mirrors the court case. The playwright is Bekah Brunstetter, a UNC graduate who grew up in North Carolina and now writes for the NBC series, “This is Us.” At the time, she said her personal experiences – the tension between personal beliefs and politics – informed her writing.
Brunstetter’s father is former N.C. Sen. Pete Brunstetter, who supported the 2011 Defense of Marriage Act, also known as Amendment One, that defines marriage as only between one man and one woman.