Civil Rights Department v. Cathy’s Creations

Last modified 2024.04.11

  • Status Ongoing
  • Type Amicus
  • Court State Court
  • Issues Discrimination by Businesses, Fighting Discrimination, LGBTQ Equality

Case Documents

In 2017, a lesbian couple went to Tastries, a California bakery, to purchase a cake for their upcoming wedding. This should have been a joyful day. Sadly, however, when the bakery’s owner learned that the cake was for a lesbian couple, the bakery refused to sell them a cake, citing opposition to same-sex marriage. In refusing to serve the couple, the bakery acted in violation of the Unruh Act, a California civil-rights law that prohibits business establishments from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation, in addition to other protected characteristics. California’s Civil Rights Department—the state entity charged with enforcing the Unruh Act—filed an enforcement action against the bakery.

In response, the bakery sued the Civil Rights Department, arguing in part that enforcement of the Unruh Act violates the bakery’s right to free exercise of religion under the state and federal constitutions. The superior court rejected the bakery’s claims. On appeal to the California Court of Appeals, the bakery reiterated its free-exercise arguments.

On April 11, 2024, Americans United, along with four allied religious and civil-rights organizations, filed an amicus brief in support of the Civil Rights Department. Our brief explained that neither federal nor state free-exercise protections require exemptions from neutral, generally applicable laws like the Unruh Act. Our brief also clarified that civil-rights laws like the Unruh Act protect religious freedom by ensuring that business establishments cannot discriminate against customers on the basis of religion.

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