Everyone deserves to celebrate their wedding day with the person they love. Sadly, homophobia still exists, and when it rears its head it can be very distressing. Such was the case in 2012, when a gay couple were turned away from a bakery by a man who refused to make them a wedding cake. The incident snowballed into a huge discrimination case, and many big names in the culinary world stepped in to share their thoughts. One of those was celebrity chef Duff Goldman.
Goldman knows a lot about discrimination. He is in fact the grandchild of Holocaust survivors, and he credits his Jewish family with helping him to become the star baker he is today. “I was taught growing up that they can take everything away from you, but they can never take away your heart and your education,” he told the Jerusalem Post in 2012. He began baking aged 4 years old, and pursued it further as he got older.
Duff Goldman studied art at the art at Corcoran College of Art and Design, and began using his artistic abilities to create spectacular cakes. When he opened a bakery called Charm City Cakes in 2000, people were instantly drawn to his incredible creations. Before long, there was even media attention. And in 2006, a Food Network reality show called Ace of Cakes began filming at Charm City Cakes.
Charm City Cakes seemed willing to create any sort of cake for anybody who asked. But not every bakery in America is so obliging. In 2012, Charlie Craig and David Mullins went to a Colorado cake shop to request a wedding cake. Just getting to that point was a fight, as America was still three years away from declaring same-sex marriage legal nationwide. Consequently, they had to get married in Massachusetts instead of their Colorado hometown.
Yet they looked forward to their wedding just like any other couple. When they booked an appointment at a place called Masterpiece Cakeshop, they assumed they would be treated like any other couple as well. However, the owner of the shop asked the two men straightaway if the cake was for their wedding. They said yes. Then the owner of the shop, Jack Phillips, told them that he was a Christian and would not provide a cake to a same-sex couple.
It was an unpleasant incident both for the couple and for Craig’s mother Debbie Munn, who had accompanied them. She wrote about her feelings in a 2017 essay for Time magazine. “When we returned to our car, I noticed Charlie’s shoulders were shaking… All I could do was embrace him and tell him I loved him and that we would get through this. As a parent, no matter how grown your children are, you want to shield them from harm. I felt I had failed him.”
It could have all ended there, with a sad hug in a parking lot. But Mullins and Craig – who got married anyway – decided to file a complaint with the Colorado civil rights commission and fight their case. As it happened, the battle would last for years and go all the way to the Supreme Court. In 2015 it was ruled that Phillips had violated state law, but he appealed against the decision.
The case sparked debate all across America. Advocates for Phillips insisted that he had the right to discriminate based on his religious beliefs; advocates for Craig and Mullins say the couple are being discriminated against and treated as second-class citizens. The Trump administration sided with Phillips. But a host of famous chefs – including Duff Goldman – filed a pro-LGBT amicus brief.
Many celebrities of the culinary business – Anthony Bourdain, Padma Lakshmi, Tom Colicchio and more – put their names on the brief. Its central argument was that food was a commercial good, not an artwork, and therefore the creator’s freedom of speech didn’t apply to it. “When a chef offers something to the public, he must offer it to all,” was the rallying cry. But Duff Goldman went above and beyond to fight for that belief.
In December 2017, he wrote an essay for the Baltimore Sun laying out his position. As well as reiterating that he believes businesses open to the public should never discriminate, he specifically criticized homophobic discrimination. “We decided a long time ago as a society that it’s fundamentally un-American to decline to serve someone because of who they are.”
“Do we want a country where people can be turned away for their race, their religion, their sexual orientation or their gender identity?” he continued. “I don’t — and I don’t think most Americans do, either. We’ve had this national conversation before, and we shouldn’t have to force our LGBTQ friends and neighbors to relive it now.”
At the end of his article Goldman actually invited Phillips to sit down and discuss it with him. “As a baker, I understand the pride that Mr. Phillips most likely has in his business, in his designs. And, if Jack Phillips is ever in Baltimore, I’d be happy to make him a cake and talk this over. He’s certainly entitled to his beliefs — but not to making anyone else less equal in our society.”
As it was, Phillips did take him up on it – but in the pages of the Baltimore Sun, rather than face-to-face. He wrote a rebuttal to Goldman a week later. He began by praising him as an artist, but also made it clear where he stands. Phillips would refuse to bake any cake he thinks is anti-Christian, not just same-sex marriage ones. “If the sweetest little old lady entered my shop and asked for a cake celebrating divorce, I would politely decline.”
“My shop is open to all and why I am happy to serve everyone. But the State of Colorado insists on more than that, demanding that I surrender my First Amendment freedoms and create custom cakes celebrating events in conflict with my beliefs,” he went on. But he did also say he would happily meet Goldman in person, though it’s not known whether this ever actually happened.
Goldman has actually stepped in on this kind of case before. In February 2013, he intervened when he heard that an Oregon baker had refused to make a wedding cake for a lesbian couple. He reposted an article about it on Twitter and wrote “I’ll make that cake for free.” The couple took him up on the offer and stated their gratitude.
That same month, Goldman gave an interview to food and drink website The Daily Meal about the debate. While he could appreciate Phillips’ wish to show his children what it means to stand up for one’s beliefs, Goldman said he couldn’t understand why people couldn’t follow their religious beliefs “in a positive way” instead. “As I listen to their reasons, I realize that it’s the same argument as when we had segregation, and when people refused to hire the Irish,” he said.
“It’s the same thing people said to my grandparents back in Russia,” he added. Goldman has spoken before on Twitter about the prejudice his grandparents faced. “Now we can look back and realize how shocking and revolting it was at the time. I just hope that people feel the same way about same-sex marriage in the future.”
The Phillips case is still ongoing, and will be until at least June 2018. There are some worrying aspects about how he is presenting his side: currently he’s being assisted by the Alliance Defending Freedom, a group known to be so right wing in its anti-LGBT arguments that it’s actually classified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center and others.
As for Phillips himself, he was asked by the Denver Post in August 2017 what he thought Jesus would have done in his position. “Well, you know, in my opinion – Jesus was a carpenter. I don’t think he would have made a bed for their wedding,” Phillips answered. “He would have never condoned something that he was against.”
Yet, as many a biblical scholar will tell you, Jesus doesn’t actually condemn same-sex relationships in the Bible – there is no record of him even mentioning homosexuality at all. Even the Pope has in recent years refused to condemn same-sex marriage. So perhaps change is coming, slowly but surely. And when prejudice against LGBT people is finally eradicated, you can bet that Goldman will bake a magnificent cake to celebrate the occasion.