In remarkably good timing for San Francisco’s political candidates, the United States Supreme Court announced a controversial decision over a gay couple’s wedding cake the day before the election.
On Monday morning, the Supreme Court ruled in a 7-2 decision that Jack Phillips, a Colorado baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a gay couple, has the right to deny his services. Mark Leno, Sup. Jeff Sheehy, and Rafael Mandelman — each of them a candidate on Tuesday’s ballot — promptly joined roughly 20 protesters to publicly condemn the Supreme Court ruling at Harvey Milk Plaza in the Castro and promote their candidacy.
Between Pride month kicking off on Saturday and the mayoral election on Tuesday, it’s the perfect opportunity for Leno to advocate for LGBTQ rights while reminding people he’s running to become San Francisco’s first openly gay mayor tomorrow.
He wasn’t the only one jumping on this opportunity. Sheehy and challenger Mandelman, both openly gay and running for the same District 8 Board of Supervisors seat, awkwardly appeared together at the rally. Even mayoral candidate Angela Alioto made an appearance, making sure to honk a trolley riddled with campaign banners as it briefly stopped on the corner of Market and Castro streets.
During his time in office, Leno co-authored legislation that expanded LGBTQ rights in the city. Sensing the potential backlash and anguish after the decision, Leno immediately assured everyone at the conference that the consequences of the ruling may not actually be as harmful as they think.
He brought his legal counsel, Leslie Katz from Equality California, to explain that the narrow decision does not give American businesses a pass in the future to discriminate based on sexual orientation.
“We need to be vigilant and we have to stay strong, but I think the majority decision did not affirm discrimination but was founded on very narrow grounds,” Katz said. “It’s due to procedural flaws.”
While it is true that Phillips’ actions came without consequences, Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy and legal analysts say the decision was made purely according to business laws. Kennedy emphasized that LGBTQ discrimination was not considered in the decision.
“Our society has come to the recognition that gay persons and gay couples cannot be treated as social outcasts or as inferior in dignity and worth,” Kennedy wrote in the majority opinion.
The court deemed that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission mishandled Phillips’ case by attacking his Christian faith, a violation of religious freedom under the First Amendment. Since a wedding cake could be considered a specialty cake as well, Phillips could be interpreted by the court as an artist exempt from government regulation. (A judge in Bakersfield decided a similar case in favor of another baker in February.)
Still, Leno and Katz said they could not deny that discrimination exists. If this revolved around race, Leno argued that the same case would not even reach the Supreme Court. Leno also affirmed to the crowd that he doubted and would be disgusted if any such discrimination occurred in businesses here in San Francisco.
“I want to make it clear how painful it is to our community that we are treated differently,” Leno said. “I would make the case that if we put any other protected class in the United States in this case, we wouldn’t be here today.”
Sheehy spoke out about the matter, discussing how media coverage and politics often polarize religion and people who identify as LGBTQ, creating a rift between both parties that should not exist.
“One of the things I find very disturbing about it is that people think LGBTQ people are not people of faith. It’s completely sinister,” Sheehy said, pointing out it was the 40th anniversary of the creation of the rainbow flag, a common symbol of LGBTQ identity.
His opponent, City College Trustee Mandelman, followed up with statements that attempted to hitch onto Leno for the election tomorrow. He said that while this is a devastating start to Pride Month, he thinks the Castro will be rejuvenated if Leno wins tomorrow night.
“The LGBT community has gotten used to Pride starting with more laws that expand our civil rights,” Mandelman said. “I’m hopeful the city will have a little more sweetness by electing our first openly gay mayor tomorrow.”
The feelings and statements revolving around this issue are obviously sincere. Luckily, Leno, Sheehy and Mandelman got to share their thoughts just in time for the June election.