Can We Really Be Refused Services Just Because We’re Gay? Legal Advice With a Lesbian Lawyer

If you feel that you have been discriminated against because of your sexual orientation and/or your gender identity/expression, it is important to report the incident.

Yetta KurlandPhoto by Courtesy of Yetta Kurland

Dear Yetta,

I heard that the Supreme Court recently ruled that a baker could refuse to create a cake for a same-sex wedding. My fiancée and I just got engaged and I’m worried that this could happen to us. But I also thought same-sex marriage was legal so this doesn’t seem right. Can we really be refused services just because we’re gay?

Engaged and Concerned


Dear Engaged,

First and foremost, congratulations on your pending nuptials!

The recent Supreme Court decision that you heard about is Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, 584 US ___ (2018). While this decision was very disappointing, it is important to note that the Supreme Court did not hold that discrimination against members of the LGBTQ community is permissible. Many news outlets described this ruling as “narrow” because the Court only ruled in favor of the baker who withheld services from a same-sex couple in the sense that the justices decided the baker had not been provided a neutral hearing before the case got to the Supreme Court. This means that the Court did not, in fact, take a position on whether it was legal for the baker to refuse to provide services for a same-sex wedding.

This is, of course, concerning, because it means that the question remains open on the national level. However, many states and local governments (including New York state and New York City) have laws that render anti-LGBTQ discrimination illegal. Despite this, within days of the Masterpiece Cakeshop decision, we have already seen, even here in New York City, reports of refusal of service to members of the LGBTQ community.

If you feel that you have been discriminated against because of your sexual orientation and/or your gender identity/expression, it is important to report the incident and take action by consulting with an attorney who has experience in this field and/or by filing a complaint with the NYC Commission on Human Rights, who can be contacted by calling 718-722-3131.

I hope this is helpful, and again, congratulations on your upcoming wedding.

With special thanks to Erica T. Kagan Senior Counsel at the Kurland Group for this article.