Without a doubt, the Masterpiece Cakeshop case pending before the U.S. Supreme Court is about much more than cake.

Colorado baker Jack Phillips refused to make a wedding cake for a gay couple, claiming that using his artistic talents in such a way would go against his religious beliefs. It is a complicated case that mixes the highly volatile issues of religious freedom, creative expression, free speech and discrimination.

But regardless of how well the mixture is blended, the end result is bigotry.

Religion has long been used to mask intolerance. It provides bigots a higher ground for justifying their disdain for those who they perceive to be different. In this case, religious intolerance was the driving force behind this discriminatory act, though it has been dressed up to appear to be something more complex.

Some have called the case a sequel to the racial discrimination that helped spark the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Indeed, discrimination based on sexual orientation is as egregious as that based on race. Both are unfair, hurtful and illegal. But that is where the comparisons should end.

When Phillips refused to take their order, the couple could have walked out of the Masterpiece Cakeshop and gone to another bakery that would have been more than happy to create a lovely cake for their wedding reception. They should not have been forced to do so, but they had the option.

African-Americans never had such options in the 1960s. Racial discrimination was systemic and pervasive across the South.

When a black teenager was denied the right to sit at the counter and order a milkshake at a drugstore, he couldn't just go to another drugstore down the street. None of the drugstores would serve him.

On family road trips, parents had to equip the car with a bucket because businesses along the way would not allow blacks to use the toilet.

It was nearly impossible to find a white-owned restaurant anywhere in the South that allowed African-Americans to walk in through the front door, sit down at a table and have a meal.

The gay rights movement largely is patterned after the racial civil rights movement. There's nothing wrong with that. But the lessons of Martin Luther King Jr. and other martyrs of the 1960s can't be learned without first understanding history.

Since the cake case was argued before the justices last week, some gay rights advocates have drawn parallels to a federal racial discrimination case from 1964. A waitress at the Piggie Park drive-in in Columbia, S.C., refused to serve two customers when she approached their car and saw that they were black.

The owner of the drive-in claimed that he had the right to deny service to blacks because of his religious belief opposing "any integration of the races whatsoever."

The U.S. District Court disagreed, ruling that while the owner had a constitutional right to espouse his religious beliefs, he did not have the right to practice them in disregard of the constitutional rights of other citizens.

The Supreme Court's only role was to award fees to lawyers for the African-Americans. But the justices added a footnote to its unanimous opinion. They called the religious freedom argument "patently frivolous."

The same should apply to the cake case. But the two cases are not parallel.

Religion was used as a basis for discrimination long before the 1960s. Religion helped to fuel the slave trade and the subsequent dehumanization of blacks on Southern plantations. The Bible, as interpreted by slave traders and slave masters, equated Africans with sin because of their dark skin color. Black was considered evil and unchristian.

Religion was used to justify the Ku Klux Klan. And in the 1960s, it was used as a tool to condemn African-Americans to a life of inadequate education, lack of economic opportunity and the inability to participate in the Democratic process by casting a vote.

Civil rights leaders of the 1960s learned early on that they must choose their battles carefully, selecting issues that would have a far-reaching impact on the future of America, in particular its black citizens. In this cake case, a victory would force a bigot to bake a cake for gay couples, even when it is unlikely that any gay couple would choose to enlist the services of a bigot. The key word here is choose.

The gay couple in this case has every right to stand up for their rights. Many of us stand solidly behind them in their quest to fight bigotry.

But comparing the cake case to racial discrimination is unfair to the countless Americans who devoted their lives to fighting racial injustice more than a half-century ago. And it minimizes the far-reaching civil rights battles that lie ahead for the gay community. From spousal benefits in the workplace to the right for transgender people to use public facilities, the fight will never end.

Gay rights groups must tackle these obstacles head-on. But they must do it without standing on the backs of African-Americans who never had the chance to choose another restaurant.

Dahleen Glanton wrote this column for the Chicago Tribune.

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