I was reading about the bakery that has been fined for refusing to provide a cake for a lesbian couple:


... and I wondered what rights retail store owners have for when they can or cannot refuse service.

If a couple came into the bakery and smashed a display case (to go to an extreme) or used offensive language to the other customers, my assumption is that it would be legal for the bakery owner to refuse that couple service. (Please correct me if I'm mistaken.) However, it would be illegal for the bakery to refuse service to customers based on the color of their skin, sexual orientation, gender, etc.

Could someone explain to me the legal distinctions therein? I believe there is something about the latter type being discrimination based on a "permanent condition" but that's the sort of thing I'm looking for some clarity about.

1 Answer 1


Federally, in places of public accommodation, discrimination based on race, color, religion, or national origin is prohibited by the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

This was upheld in Heart of Atlanta Motel, Inc. v. United States 379 U.S. 241. As summarized in that case, "Public Accommodations" cover:

  1. any inn, hotel, motel, or other establishment which provides lodging to transient guests, other than an establishment located within a building which contains not more than five rooms for rent or hire and which is actually occupied by the proprietor of such establishment as his residence

  2. any restaurant, cafeteria . . .

  3. any motion picture house . . .

  4. any establishment . . . which is physically located within the premises of any establishment otherwise covered by this subsection, or . . . within the premises of which is physically located any such covered establishment . . .

In Oregon, there are additional restrictions imposed by the Equality Act of 2007:

Except as provided in subsection (2) of this section, all persons within the jurisdiction of this state are entitled to the full and equal accommodations, advantages, facilities and privileges of any place of public accommodation, without any distinction, discrimination or restriction on account of race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, national origin, marital status or age if the individual is 18 years of age or older.

In Oregon, a "place of public accommodation" includes:

Any place or service offering to the public accommodations, advantages, facilities or privileges whether in the nature of goods, services, lodgings, amusements, transportation or otherwise.

Other states may not have these extra prohibitions or different prohibitions. They may also have statutory exceptions for peoples' sincerely held religious beliefs.

Why the legislature chose to specifically protect these classes is a policy question better asked on Politics.SE.

  • 2
    Can you clarify the scope of the prohibition on discrimination in the Civil Rights Act? For example, Title II appears closest to applying to a retail business, though the law itself leaves unclear what is a "public accommodation engaged in interstate commerce...." There must be some interesting case law covering attempts by groups to sneak outside of that now-common term "public accommodation."
    – feetwet
    Jul 8, 2015 at 20:25

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