US bakery must make gay wedding cakes: Court

 A couple walks hand in hand in Dublin.
A couple walks hand in hand in Dublin.REUTERS

CHICAGO (AFP) - In the latest victory for gay rights, an appeals court ruled on Thursday that a Colorado baker cannot refuse to sell wedding cakes to same-sex couples because it goes against his religious beliefs.

The decision comes nearly two months after a landmark Supreme Court decision legalised gay marriage across the United States.

Masterpiece Cakeshop has joined a growing number of businesses successfully sued for discriminating against gay couples.

However, businesses in more than half of the United Sates are still legally allowed to refuse gay customers because 29 states do not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Charlie Craig and David Mullins filed a complaint under Colorado's anti-discrimination laws when baker Jack Phillips told them in 2012 he wouldn't make them a cake due to his religious beliefs.

The state did not recognise gay marriage at the time, but did prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Phillips argued that being required to make wedding cakes for gay couples violated his right to freedom of religion and free speech.

The state's appeals court disagreed, arguing in a 66-page ruling that requiring someone to comply with the law is not the same as compelling someone to "endorse" something they don't agree with.

"Masterpiece remains free to continue espousing its religious beliefs, including its opposition to same-sex marriage," the court ruled.

"However, if it wishes to operate as a public accommodation and conduct business within the state of Colorado, Cada (Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act) prohibits it from picking and choosing customers based on their sexual orientation."

An Oregon bakery was ordered to pay US$135,000 (S$188,000) in damages last month after refusing to bake a cake for a 2013 same-sex wedding.

The case which helped bring the issue to national attention was that of a New Mexico wedding photographer who refused a lesbian couple in 2008 and tried to say her right to artistic and religious freedom should trump the state's anti-discrimination laws.

The Supreme Court declined to hear her appeal in 2014.