Jack Phillips knows he can’t do anything about those who call him a hater. He says he just loves to get up each day to design and make cakes, cookies and brownies to honor God—and to make a living.
“It’s a spiritual battle. We’re not fighting, God’s fighting.”—Jack Phillips
This year, however, Phillips faces a loss of $100,000 or more because Colorado judges ruled that his Masterpiece Cakeshop must make wedding cakes for same-sex couples as well as opposite-sex couples. The 22-year-old Masterpiece Cakeshop normally produces about 200 custom-made wedding cakes a year, at about $500 a pop.
Phillips, a Christian since the late 1970s, says creating cakes for same-sex marriages would go against his constitutionally protected belief that marriage is the sacred union of a man and a woman, as taught in the Bible.
His lawyers, who describe him as a “cake artist,” also argue that the First Amendment means the government can’t compel Phillips to use his talents to express a message supporting gay marriage.
Phillips also chooses not to create cakes depicting witches or ghosts for Halloween, or to design cakes with sexually suggestive images.
“There’s just certain events, certain cakes I don’t make,” Phillips, 59, told The Daily Signal in a phone interview Monday afternoon from his shop in Lakewood, Colo. “That was one of them.”
So while his case winds its way through legal channels, perhaps destined for the U.S. Supreme Court, Phillips has opted since March 2014 not to take any new orders for wedding cakes rather than be forced to create them for two men or two women.
So far, Phillips, who belongs to a Baptist-rooted church, has lost at each step of the legal process.
On Aug. 13, the Colorado Court of Appeals decided that Masterpiece Cakeshop discriminated against two gay men, Charlie Craig and David Mullins, when Phillips declined in July 2012 to take the couple’s order for a cake to celebrate their wedding in Massachusetts.
Later on the day of the ruling, Phillips’s two sisters and a brother-in-law launched an online fundraising effort, “Support Jack Phillips,” to help offset the bakery’s ongoing losses. Its home is Continue to Give, a Christian-oriented “crowdfunding” site.
The last time Phillips whipped up a wedding cake, based on an existing order, was in November. This is the first year he hasn’t taken orders for or made wedding cakes since the shop opened.
“The profit range was higher on the wedding cakes. Now we try to get more volume,” Phillips said. “But God has been supplying everything we need so far.”
Phillips was born a few miles from his bakery. He and his wife Debi, married nearly 38 years, have three children now in their 30s: Lisa works at the bakery decorating cakes, Jennifer lives in Montreal, and Jeremy is a computer programmer in California.
His 88-year-old mother volunteers at Masterpiece Cakeshop, preparing deposits and paying bills a few hours each week. His father, a World War II veteran, died in 1996.
In the interview with The Daily Signal, Phillips talked about how both loyal customers and strangers have voiced support for his convictions, including “dozens or hundreds” of gays and lesbians.
Phillips, who has been a baker all of his adult life, also recalled his first and only encounter with the two men who initiated legal action against him and what it has meant to his business, his marriage, and his family.
And he spoke about why, as a Christian, he has to take this stand.
Here are excerpts of the interview, edited for length and clarity:
The Daily Signal: To the extent you have to, how do you explain to customers why you aren’t making wedding cakes?
Phillips: The two-minute version of it would be: Three years ago, two men came into my bakery and wanted a wedding cake and said it was for their wedding.
I said, ‘Sorry, guys, I don’t make cakes for same-sex weddings.’
They said, ‘What?’
“One went out one door, the other went out the other, swearing at me and flipping me off.”—Jack Phillips
I said, ‘You know, I’ll make you a birthday cake, shower cake, I’ll sell you cookies and brownies, I just don’t do cakes for same-sex weddings.’
At which point they stomped out. One went out one door, the other went out the other door, swearing at me and flipping me off.
And then the phones started ringing. They apparently called their friends and said let’s harass this guy, or whatever happened. Then the state sued me.
And the judge ruled that even though I welcomed them and told them I would sell them any other product, that because I turned down this one, I had violated the [anti-] discrimination law. And that I didn’t sell it to them because they were homosexuals rather than because the event, participating in that, violated my faith.
Q: How many wedding cakes would you have made this year if you hadn’t stopped?
A: Normally we do 200 a year, maybe more. It’s probably closer to 250.
Q: You say you’ve taken a 40 percent loss?
A: Rough estimate. I won’t know an exact figure until we get our year-end profit-loss statement.
Q: Can you estimate that loss in dollars?
A: Take the low end of 200 wedding cakes a year. They probably average $500 a wedding, so that’d be $100,000. In a small, mom-and-pop place with six [employees], that’s a lot of money. For a McDonald’s, that’s not a lot of money.
Q: What has it meant for your business?
“I was more surprised by my government threatening my rights.”—Jack Phillips
A: We’ve had to make quite a few adjustments. We don’t have as many employees now, and the ones we have are working fewer hours. We’ve always made cookies and brownies, and people are buying a lot more of those. But you don’t sell cookies and brownies for five, six, seven dollars a serving.
Q: How many employees did you have to lay off?
A: I haven’t laid off anyone. People who have gone on to other things haven’t been replaced. It’s attrition. At one time I had 15 people working here, and now I have six on the payroll including three part time. One of my sisters, Trish, she comes in a couple days for a couple hours and helps clean up stuff, and does it for free. My mom comes in, makes bank deposits and pays bills, and she won’t let me pay her either.
Q: Financial problems are a challenge to any marriage. Has this been tough for the two of you?
A: If it were strictly just a business thing and we lost a lot of money, then conceivably it would be. But because of the situation, where this is a fight for our faith first and our freedom also, we’re both in the same fight. And the whole family encourages each other. So, no, it’s actually made us stronger. It’s a spiritual battle. We’re not fighting, God’s fighting. And he’s using us at the same time.
Q: What do your kids think about your decision?
A: They’re all behind it.
Q: How have your longtime customers responded?
A: I’ll give you a couple of examples. One lady—we’ve been opened almost 22 years, and she’s been coming in regularly for a lot of that, if not all of it. Now she comes in like every other week just to buy an extra dessert cake—and it’s just her and her husband.
Another lady is doing the same thing. She finds more reasons to buy more cake for parties, or she gives it away. And then a lot of people just come by and buy a brownie and say, ‘Hi, how’s everything going?’ And they wouldn’t [otherwise] necessarily, because they might have to come out of their way to do it.
Q: So the immediate reaction of the two men that day in July 2012 was anger, not to get more information about your perspective?
A: Yeah, they stomped out. Our whole interaction was 20 seconds, no more than 30 seconds of conversation. But one of them [Craig] also came with his mom, and she was sitting at a table … I’d say 12, 15 feet away. She couldn’t hear what was going on, and she called me the next day and said, ‘So what was all this about?’ And I was able to explain clearly to her so she could relay it to them.
Q: Was she civil?
A: Yeah, she was. It was maybe a five-minute conversation. And she was cordial. With all the other phone calls I got, though, I wasn’t surprised that, you know, they were going to do me anyway. But she was a nice lady.
Q: The two men used profanity?
A: Yeah, the f-bomb [laughs]. Something about ‘F you and your f-ing homophobic cake shop.’ I know ‘homophobic cake shop’ was in there, and the f-word.
Q: When you first explained, did you say, ‘I’m a Christian, and here’s why …?’
A: No, that didn’t come up until the conversation with the mother.
I told them, ‘Hi, guys.’
“And I said, ‘Sorry, guys, I don’t make cakes for same-sex weddings.’”—Jack Phillips
‘Oh, OK. What can I do for you?’
‘We’re here to look at wedding cakes.’ David said that.
And Charlie said, ‘Yeah, and it’s for our wedding.’
And I said, ‘Sorry, guys, I don’t make cakes for same-sex weddings.’
‘I’ll make you birthday cakes, shower cakes, sell you cookies or brownies, but I just don’t do cakes for same-sex weddings.’
That’s when they got up and left, so there wasn’t time to explain all that. They were gone.
“They cannot do anything to me that God doesn’t allow.”—Jack Phillips
Q: You got a death threat call the next day?
A: Yes. It was legitimate enough, or seemed legitimate enough, that I called the police. The guy kept calling and threatening me while the police were here, but we could never get a connection that the policeman could [make].
Q: What did the caller say?
A: He was going to come and he was going to shoot me. He said he was driving past a certain [nearby] street. He said he also knew that my daughter was here.
They cannot do anything to me that [God] doesn’t allow. So I just get up in the morning. I’ve been doing this for 40 years and there’s not one day that I’ve gotten up and thought, ‘Oh, man, I don’t want to go to work today.’ I love going to work. Always have. That doesn’t change it.
Q: It’s likely to continue to be a long haul. Is there a particular Bible verse that gives you the most comfort?
A: There’s a few I fall back on. [One is] Titus 3:3-7, it says that at one time we too were foolish and disobedient, deceived, enslaved to all kinds of passions and pleasures. I was in that boat too. [God] redeemed me through his son.
Q: It’s no coincidence those two men came in that day?
A: God does everything according to his plan. And so nothing is a coincidence. … I’ve come to the realization that God does what he wants to do and uses who he wants to use, however he wants.
Q: Have you received any support or encouragement from people who say ‘I’m gay, or I’m a lesbian, and I respect your religious freedom?’
A: Yeah, quite a few. The other day a guy from Daytona Beach called and left a message. He said he’s gay and he wanted to offer his support, and gave me his phone number to call him back.
So that’s one, but there’s dozens or hundreds of gays who say they think this is just not right [and is] politically motivated mostly. ‘You have the right to turn us down and these people are making us all look like we’re terrorists. … But we’re not, we just want to live our lives.’
One of the local radio shows did a remote broadcast here. We had people lined up for two hours. The very first man who came in was a gay man who said, ‘I’m here to support you,’ and he bought some stuff. And for a while he came in once a week [or] once a month.
Q: Why is it so important for you to take this stand?
A: What’s important is that I’m being obedient to Christ. He’s given me this business and if he were here, he wouldn’t make the cake. If he were my employee, I wouldn’t force him to make the cake and participate in it because it doesn’t honor God. The Bible calls it a sin.
“You don’t get into the party business if you’re a hater. I love people.”—Jack Phillips
Q: And those who say you’re a hater—do you hate these guys?
A: No. They don’t even know me. You don’t get into the birthday business and the party business if you’re a hater, if you don’t like people. I love people. They’re all welcome to come in. There’s just certain events, certain cakes that I don’t make. That was one of them.
Q: Have you pretty much accepted that you were targeted?
A: No, I’ve never thought that. I thought the two guys came into my store because they wanted a really good cake.
Q: But it sounds like you were surprised by harassing phone calls and emails?
A: I was surprised by that, but even more surprised by my government—that’s supposed to be on my side defending my rights—threatening my rights.
Q: What does your 88-year-old mom tell you about all this?
A: My mom just thinks it’s the greatest thing.
Q: In what way?
A: The state wants me to rehabilitate her as one of my employees, and she says she won’t be rehabilitated. She’s got a great sense of humor about it.