WASHINGTON, D.C. – Since baker Jack Phillips followed his religious beliefs and refused to make a cake celebrating a gay marriage, he's lost 40 percent of his business and had to lay off half his staff.
That drives him to tears sometimes, as it did outside the U.S. Supreme Court building after his case – Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission – was heard Tuesday.
"There have been many tears and many difficult days for us. I've had to stop creating the wedding art that I love. I've faced death threats and harassment," the Longwood, Colorado baker said to news media assembled by the Court fountain.
But the homosexual couple he wouldn't make the cake for insisted a defeat for them could open the door to discrimination that could hurt even non-gay people.
"If a business owner is allowed to pick and choose who they serve based on their strongly-held beliefs, could a hotel owner refuse to rent a room to an inter-racial couple because his faith believes that the races should not mix?" asked David Mullins, one of the two partners.
Mullins also said he and his partner were deeply hurt by Phillips' refusal to bake their cake back on that day in 2012 and it made them feel like second-class citizens.
"We were mortified and humiliated," Mullins recalled. "And as quickly as we could we gathered ourselves and we left."
Phillips, though, feels he did nothing wrong and has fought all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court because he doesn't believe the government should have the right to order Americans to support something in direct contradiction of their conscience.
"It's hard to believe that the government is forcing me to choose between providing for my family and my employees and violating my relationship with God," Phillips said. "That is not freedom. That is not tolerance."
Outside the Supreme Court building, there were plenty of people representing both sides of this issue, because both sides feel there is so much on the line for them.
Family Research Council's Tony Perkins said freedom is on the line if a Christian baker like Phillips can be forced to express a message his conscience opposes.
"This case is not about same-sex marriage. It's about dealing with the ramifications of the court's decision a couple of years ago that put at risk the ability to truly have First Amendment freedoms," Perkins told CBN News.
Over on the other side of the plaza, Jennifer See, a wife and a mother of transgender people, said cake-baker Phillips is discriminating, plain and simple.
"If he makes wedding cakes, what difference does it make who he's serving it to? He's not there to judge their marriage. He's there to bake cakes," she said.
"We can't turn the clock back on the way that we live. This is an attempt to erode our way of life," said Jamie Grant, a lesbian and official in the group Parents & Friends of Lesbians & Gays (PFLAG).
"This isn't about silliness and cake. This isn't silly. This is about life and death for people in our community. And Christians of all people, who we know what it meant to be turned away at the inn, we know what it means to be turned away in critical times," Grant told CBN News.
"We're basically repeating what we've done in the past. We denied rights to the black people, to the Muslim people, to the Polish people, all these different groups that have been discriminated against," See added.
But U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, said the court is attacking the very essence of the First Amendment if it rules against Phillips and his bakeshop.
"For the government to compel people, first of all, to violate their conscience and then conduct any kind of action that violates their conscience, it is completely untenable in this country," King said.
The justices in the one-and-a-half hour hearing seemed torn about the ramifications of the case: their questions suggesting they didn't want to hurt civil rights, but neither did they want to imperil First Amendment rights.
What's so suspenseful about this case is the swing vote. Justice Anthony Kennedy has many times ruled for gay rights but has also ruled many times for free speech rights. So the case, according to court watchers, really is at this point a toss-up.
"He's written a lot of the decisions dealing with same-sex marriage and sort of seen himself as the defender of that," said Matt Sharp, Alliance Defending Freedom senior counsel.
"He's been one of the great defenders of free speech and written some of the best opinions out there. And that's what this case is about: is protecting the right of free speech for creative professionals and so many others," he continued.
"So, all he really has to do is follow that precedent. Follow that idea that the government can't compel speech and that ought to be a clear ruling for Jack."
The court usually takes months before it issues a ruling, especially with crucial cases like this one.