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Monday, December 5, 2016

We should have seen this one coming.

This is America, after all, a country having no shortage of people with, apparently, too much time on their hands. So someone should have predicted Cake Wars II.

No, that’s not a new summer blockbuster from Marvel. Rather, “Cake Wars” is Slate’s name for the latest wrinkle in the battle over same-sex marriage.

You may want a second cup of coffee for this.

It seems a Colorado man recently filed a civil rights complaint against a baker who refused to bake a cake for him. Specifically, Bill Jack, co-founder of a Christian youth camp, former staffer at a creationist ministry, walked into Azucar Bakery in Denver last March and requested a cake shaped like a Bible. He wanted it to depict two men holding hands, with a big ‘X’ through them. He also wanted an anti-gay message on the cake. Appalled, owner Marjorie Silva refused and Jack filed his complaint, claiming he was discriminated against because of his religious convictions.

It takes little imagination to suspect that Jack walked into Azucar seeking not to buy a cake, but to make a point. Remember, last March the news was full of angry responses to what might be called Cake Wars I (or Jim Crow 2.0), a slew of state laws allowing businesses to refuse, on religious grounds, to serve gay people. This was aimed at exempting caterers, florists, bakers and other wedding-associated businesses from having to work for same-sex couples. Last May, a Colorado judge ruled against a bakery that had refused a cake to two men.

So this is payback. This is, “How do you like it, being forced to participate in something you hate?”

And it leaves us wrestling with the tricky question of how to draw a line protecting the rights of same-sex couples to be served while allowing businesses to refuse to participate in bigotry like Jack’s. Some, including Slate, have suggested requiring a baker to serve anyone who walks through the door, but exempting her from having to write any message — whether “Congratulations on Your Same-Sex Marriage” or “Burn in H–l, Sodomites” — that offends her.

The problem is, that gives a baker veto power over her customer’s freedom of expression. The sentiment on the cake, remember, comes not from the cake maker — she’s just the one writing it out in frosting — but from the customer. Will we then exempt a baker who declines to write a message celebrating a mosque’s 20th anniversary?

So here’s another idea. Maybe Silva should just hold her nose and bake the cake.

You know what happens afterward, of course, this being, again, a nation full of people with too much time on their hands. There follows a spate of folk demanding cakes that insult undocumented immigrants, black people, Muslims. As retaliation, some poor old lady who runs a bakery in some Bible Belt town is asked for a cake promoting Satanism — or Democrats.

It will be tiresome, dispiriting and disheartening. And then, faster than a kiss-in at a Chick-fil-A, it will be over. Because flashpoints in the culture war have a tendency to burn hot, but not long. Because even people with too much time on their hands have to go to work eventually. And because none of it affects the arc of change.

Probably even Jack understands that. His was only a dead-ender’s stunt, protected by the First Amendment, interesting for what it’s worth, but not particularly important in the large scheme. Marriage equality has begun to feel inevitable, gay men and lesbians finding acceptance in the mainstream of American life to a degree unthinkable even 10 years ago.

No mere stunt can forestall that. Therefore, no mere stunt should overly excite us. What should we do, then, about the Bill Jacks of the world? Simple:

Let them eat cake.

Leonard Pitts is a columnist for The Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla., 33132. Readers may contact him via email at [email protected]

Photo: Emilian Tiberiu Toba