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The US Supreme Court has issued a long-awaited decision in the controversial case Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission (pdf), finding for a baker who in 2012 denied his services to a same-sex couple seeking a wedding cake.

Joining the majority opinion were two consistently liberal justices: Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan.

"This ruling stands as a clear and humbling rebuke to all those, inside and outside the Statehouse, who took the position this last session that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission can do no wrong, and that it always acts within appropriate legal and constitutional boundaries". A Colorado civil-rights agency ruled that Phillips had violated the state's antidiscrimination laws and told him that, if he wanted to make cakes for opposite-sex weddings, he would have to do the same for same-sex weddings.

According to the opinion, the case hinged on how a Colorado Commission reviewing the case treated Phillips' and his religious beliefs.

Twenty-one states, including Colorado, now have anti-discrimination laws protecting people from being refused service on the grounds of sexual orientation.

The decision is expected to have wide-reaching ramifications for similar cases around the country involving Christians who have objected to being forced to provide services for gay weddings.

He cited his Christian faith in refusing, and the duo then summoned the power of a leftist state Civil Rights Commission, which ordered Phillips, and his staff, to go through reindoctrination. During a brief encounter at Phillips' Masterpiece Cakeshop in the Denver suburb of Lakewood, the baker politely but firmly refused, leaving the couple distraught.

The court ruled narrowly Monday.

Of the 50 states, 21 including Colorado have anti-discrimination laws protecting gay people.

During oral argument in December, Kennedy and other conservative justices had expressed concern about the potential effect on other merchants with strong religious objections to same-sex marriage, from chefs to florists. Justice Anthony Kennedy authored the majority opinions in both cases.

"The government, consistent with the Constitution's guarantee of free exercise, can not impose regulations that are hostile to the religious beliefs of affected citizens and can not act in a manner that passes judgment upon or presupposes the illegitimacy of religious beliefs and practices", Kennedy added.

Phillips now sits vindicated by the Supreme Court.

The closely watched case before the Supreme Court, which in 2015 legalised same-sex marriage nationwide, pitted gay rights against religious liberty.

Craig and Mullins said Phillips discriminated against them and violated their civil rights.

Justice Ruth Ginsburg, who wrote the dissent, said that while there were many things about the court decision she agreed with, she believed the couple David Mullins and Charlie Craig were discriminated against.

Therefore, Kennedy concluded, the commission's order - which, among other things, required Phillips to sell same-sex couples wedding cakes or anything else that he would sell to opposite-sex couples and mandated remedial training and compliance reports - "must be set aside".