A gay couple walks into a bakery owned by a straight, cis-gender male. The couple wants to buy a wedding cake, but the baker refuses service. The baker doesn’t believe in gay marriage, so he tells the couple he will not bake the cake. Is that legal? Is that moral?
John Corvino, dean of the Irvin D. Reid Honors College and philosophy professor, endeavored to answer these questions through a lecture titled "Masterpiece Cakeshop, Sexual-Orientation Discrimination, and the Metaphysics of Cakes."
Corvino’s talk centered on the Masterpiece Cakeshop vs. Colorado Civil Rights Commission Supreme Court caseof 2018. This case involved a Colorado baker who refused to sell a wedding cake to a gay couple, because it conflicted with his religious beliefs.
The Supreme Court’s decision failed to answer the case’s fundamental question:Where do we draw the legal line between anti-discrimination laws and the protection of free speech?
Although the court failed to answer this question, Corvino had an answer.
Corvino considers the refusal to engage in a creative activity, what he terms as a “design-based refusal,” is consistent with individuals’ rights to free speech. However, refusal to provide a common item such as a cake, constitutes a discriminatory act.
“The Colorado baker tried to make it sound like his refusal is a design-based refusal,” Corvino said. “It was a use-based refusal as the couple were going to pick the wedding cake from a catalog and the baker was against it being used in a gay marriage.”
Corvino has authored numerous academic publications and three books including “Why Shouldn’t Tommy and Jim Have Sex?” and “Debating Religious Liberty and Discrimination.”
Sarah Walker, a graduate student in the communications department, said she attended the event because Corvino is a member of her Ph.D. committee and his lecture is relevant to her thesis work.
“I do research on the religious rhetoric in response to the LGBTQ community, specifically, the act of self-marginalization by groups such as Evangelical Christians in response to the recent success and increased acceptance of the LGBTQ community,” Walker said.
Kerestin Aziz, a second-year pre-med student, said she regularly views Corvino’s popular YouTube channel where he presents nuanced arguments in an accessible way aimed at a wide audience.
"I love (Corvino's) distinction between user-based and design-based objections,” Aziz said. “I was also really impressed by the balance of eloquence and humor in his presentation.”
The philosophy department’s next event will be the annual Seymour Riklin Memorial Lecture by Alexander Nehamas, a professor of philosophy from Princeton University, on Nov. 16.