The former owners of Sweet Cakes by Melissa have finally paid a state-mandated fine for refusing to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple – months after they were ordered to do so.
Oregon Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian told Aaron and Melissa Klein to pay $135,000 to Rachel and Laurel Bowman-Cryer in July, but in October, the Kleins announced that they would not comply with the order while it was on appeal.
In a statement, their attorney Tyler Smith explained why the couple changed their minds.
“Aaron and Melissa Klein are devoted to honoring God in every aspect of their lives, including how they conduct themselves in this litigation. Oregon law requires that as they appeal the Oregon government’s decision denying them their First Amendment rights, they must either pay the amount imposed by the Oregon government, or obtain a bond for the amount of the judgment,” Smith said. “The least expensive option to stay in compliance with the law was to pay the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries funds that will be kept in a separate account until they prevail in their court appeal.”
The Kleins have repeatedly argued that the state violated their First Amendment rights by finding they had violated the Oregon Equality Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Although they ran a secular small business, and not a ministry, they said they should receive a religious exemption from the law.
This has not persuaded the courts. The Kleins have thus far failed to convince the state they should be exempt from the law, and it will be a significant challenge to convince the Oregon Court of Appeals to rule in their favor.
The Oregonian reports that the Kleins paid a total of $144,000 to the state this month; that figure includes accrued interest for their refusal to pay it earlier. At the time, they claimed they simply couldn’t afford the fine---even though they’d raised approximately $517,000 from various crowdfunding sites in order to cover the debt. “It's difficult to understand the Kleins’ unwillingness to pay the debt when they have, very publicly, raised nearly a half million dollars,” a labor bureau spokesman said in an October statement.
Despite that windfall, they say they’ve suffered for their refusal to bake the cake. Aaron Klein claims he was forced to work as a garbage collector after they closed their storefront location, and vandals broke into the business’ branded car twice.
That’s been enough for the Religious Right to declare them martyrs for the cause. The Kleins are frequent sights on the movement’s speaking circuit. They’ve repeatedly appeared on TV and have spoken twice at the Family Research Council’s annual Values Voter Summit in Washington, D.C. GOP presidential hopeful Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) even hosted them on a “Heroes Panel” at his “Rally for Religious Liberty” earlier this year.
Meanwhile, the Bowman-Cryers received death threats for their decision to file a complaint against the couple. Neighbors left hate mail at their home, and they received numerous angry emails and social media messages after Aaron Klein posted their contact information on his personal Facebook page. They told the Willamette Week in July that they briefly had to leave the state due to the backlash. That backlash even impacted their attempt to adopt their two foster children: The state threatened to remove the children from their home due to the media attention.
The Bowman-Cryers, however, have not been invited to appear on a presidential candidate’s heroes panel for the discrimination they’ve faced. And the Kleins’ decision to finally pay their fine will hardly end the matter. Their appeal will go forward, and their capitulation to the state will likely only stoke further outrage on their behalf.
This isn’t justice. It’s just another move in the discrimination game.