February 2018 Church & State - February 2018

Ore. Appeals Court Affirms Bakery Discriminated Against Lesbian Couple

  Liz Hayes

The Oregon Court of Appeals Dec. 28 unanimously affirmed that the owners of the Sweet Cakes by Melis­sa bakery violated state anti-discrimination laws when they refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple in 2013.

The court also upheld the $135,000 fine levied against the bakery by the state’s Bureau of Labor and Industries.

The opinion comes almost exactly five years after the couple was turned away by the bakery, and less than a month after the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in a similar case, Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission.

The Oregon case began when Rachel and Laurel Bowman-Cryer were planning to have a commitment ceremony in early 2013. Rachel and her mother stopped by Sweet Cakes by Melissa for a tasting and to order a cake, but once owner Aaron Klein learned it was for a same-sex couple, he said the bakery wouldn’t comply due to the religious views he and his wife hold. Klein called the brides “abominations,” according to Lambda Legal, which represented the women.

After the women filed a complaint with Oregon’s Justice Department, the bakery posted the complaint online – including the women’s contact information, which led them to receive death threats. The bakery owners were portrayed as Christian martyrs as they appeared on talk shows and at Religious Right events like the Values Voter Summit.

The Kleins, who closed their business in 2016, eventually paid the fine with money they raised online, though they continued to challenge it in court. Americans United filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case, Klein v. Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries, arguing that religion cannot be used as an excuse to discriminate.

First Liberty Institute, the Religious Right legal group representing the Kleins, said their attorneys were reviewing the December decision and would “consider their options for further appeal.”

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