Christian-Owned Bakery Discriminated Against Lesbian Couple, Says Judge

| by Michael Allen
Trashing Homophobia.Trashing Homophobia.

The owners of Sweet Cakes by Melissa bakery in Gresham, Oregon, have long claimed they did not discriminate against a same-sex couple, Rachel Cryer and Laurel Bowman, by refusing to make a cake for their wedding.

But Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries announced an administrative judge ruled that Aaron and Melissa Klein, who own the bakery, did discriminate against the couple and will have to pay them up to $150,000 in fines, noted KGW.

"Oregonians may not be denied service based on sexual orientation or gender identity," said BOLI spokesman Charlie Burr. "The (Oregon Equality Act of 2007) provides an exemption for religious organizations and schools, but does not allow private businesses to discriminate based on sexual orientation."

But the case is not over. A March 10 hearing will determine exactly how much the Kleins will have to pay the couple. Oregon Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian will make the final ruling.

Sweet Cakes by Melissa closed its store in December 2013, but Melissa said she would continue baking cakes from home.

"The entire time, I felt the law was very much on our side because the law is black and white," Paul Thompson, a lawyer advising the lesbian couple, told The Oregonian. "You cannot discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation."

"The (administrative law judge) recognized that all of the State's claims but one were baseless and not supported by the facts of the case," countered Anna Harmon, one of attorneys representing the Kleins. "We view this as a partial victory. However, the (judge) ruled wrongly that the Kleins' right not to design and create a work of art celebrating an event which violates the tenets of their religion is not protected by the Oregon or Federal Constitutions. This is a wrong and dangerous result for religious liberty and rights of conscience in Oregon..."

"Americans should not have to choose between adhering to their faith or closing their business, but that is what this decision means," added Harmon.

ACLU notes, "In the 1960s, we saw institutions object to laws requiring integration in restaurants because of sincerely held beliefs that God wanted the races to be separate. We saw religiously affiliated universities refuse to admit students who engaged in interracial dating. In those cases, we recognized that requiring integration was not about violating religious liberty; it was about ensuring fairness."

Sources: The Oregonian, KGW, ACLU Image Credit: Kurt Loewenstein Educational Center International Team via Wikimedia Commons