The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Angela Simaan,

Small Businesses Support Equality in Masterpiece Case

Small business owners overwhelmingly agree: discrimination is bad for business.


Small business owners joined together today to send a clear message that businesses open to the public must serve all. Main Street Alliance, the American Independent Business Alliance, the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, and the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce submitted the brief in the Masterpiece Cakeshop vs. Colorado Civil Rights Commission case today, and collectively represent more than 61,000 small businesses across the country. The brief argues that nondiscrimination laws - which enjoy strong support among small business owners - are fundamentally good for business and essential to the communities in which businesses operate.

At the heart of the Masterpiece case is the question of whether nondiscrimination laws can continue to be enforced without sweeping and dangerous exemptions. The case itself involves a Colorado baker who refused to sell a cake to a same-sex couple celebrating their civil marriage. The business owner's action was in direct violation of Colorado's nondiscrimination law, and both the Colorado Civil Rights Commission and the state Supreme Court ruled in favor of the couple.

"Main Street Alliance members have a long history of standing up and advocating for all members of our communities to be treated fairly and equally - under the law and in accordance with basic human dignity," said Amanda Ballantyne, Main Street Alliance's National Director. "This is a particularly important moment for small business owners. A bad ruling in this case would have wide-reaching and adverse consequences that impact every community and disrupt local economies."

"We take pride in collaborating with our customers to bring to life their visions for a space," said Jeff Seabold, founder of Seabold Architectural Studio. "It's a process that we view as a mix between art and science - but it's also our business. And when you run a small business, you understand the importance of growing your customer base and constantly striving to meet their needs. Turning customers away isn't just wrong - it's not a smart business move."

In the brief, the businesses argue that nondiscrimination policies - like the one in Colorado - are good for business: "Non-discrimination laws are good for business. Study after study shows that business--and small businesses in particular--suffer considerable negative economic consequences when operating under laws that permit discrimination. Because discriminatory business conduct by any one business hurts the bottom line for all businesses in the community, Amici's small businesses overwhelmingly oppose it. In places where broad exemptions apply to public accommodations laws, workforces shrink, tourism declines, and job growth is stifled. The opposite phenomena are observed in places with laws that mandate non-discriminatory business practices--businesses in such places thrive."

In fact, small business owners overwhelmingly support nondiscrimination protections - and reject the notion that any small business owner should be able to reject customers just because of their religious beliefs. A 2015 poll from Small Business Majority, the Center for American Progress, and American Unity Fund found:

  • Two-thirds of small business owners don't believe businesses should be able to deny goods or services to LGBT people based solely on their religious beliefs.
  • Eighty percent of small business owners support federal protections for LGBT people covering public accommodations - public spaces like restaurants, shops, hotels and parks.
  • Nearly 60 percent of small business owners reject laws that would allow individuals businesses to legally refuse service to LGBT people based on religious beliefs.

"The plaintiff's wish for a right to discriminate is completely unrepresentative of America's independent businesses," said Jennifer Rockne, Co-director of the American Independent Business Alliance (AMIBA). "Independent business owners have no desire to reverse civil rights progress and legalize discrimination." Rockne notes that AMIBA's recent 'We Welcome Everybody' window decals, which include a clear anti-discrimination message, is the most popular item the organization has ever produced.

"Each and every day, we offer unique and customized entertainment packages - because that's what our business is about," said Dennis Porter, owner of Happy Faces Entertainment, a small business signed onto the brief. "We don't believe it's in the best interest of our business to deny customers our services just because of who they are or who they love. We firmly believe that as a public business, we have a responsibility to serve the entire public."

The Supreme Court will hear oral argument in Masterpiece on December 5th.

The Main Street Alliance (MSA) is a national network of small business coalitions working to build a new voice for small businesses on important public policy issues. Main Street Alliance members are working throughout the country to build policies that work for business owners, their employees, and the communities they serve.