Both political commenters and government officials voiced their opinions after an Oregon judge ruled that Christian bakery owners discriminated against a lesbian couple after refusing to bake them a wedding cake.
Aaron and Melissa Klein, the co-owners of Sweet Cakes by Melissa, said they declined to accept the couple’s order because the wedding violated their Christian beliefs against same-sex marriage.
The couple could pay up to $200,000 in fines and damages.
In an investigation last year, state officials found that the bakery violated the couple’s right to equal treatment in places meant to serve the public. Oregon law prohibits discrimination in those places.
“You cannot discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation,” Paul Thompson, the couple’s legal counsel, told The Oregonian. “The entire time, I felt the law was very much on our side because the law is black and white.”
Conservatives criticized the judge’s ruling because it infringes on a business owner’s right to refuse service.
Todd Starnes, host of Fox News and Commentary, said he thinks the court’s ruling shows how the government singles out Christian business owners for their religious beliefs.
“And it appears the courts are consistently ruling that gay rights trump everyone else’s rights,” Starnes said.
Officials in Oregon, however, said the government has a responsibility to identify businesses that are discriminating against minority populations – including the LGBT community.
In 2013, Brad Avakian, Oregon Labor Commissioner, said the government wants to help rehabilitate businesses, like the Klein’s bakery, that received complaints and rulings proving cases of discrimination.
Avakain will decide the amount the Klein’s will pay in fines and damages during a March 10 hearing.
Aaron Klein, however, said he thinks the judge’s ruling makes it impossible for Americans to stand up for their religious beliefs.
“I’ve never seen a government entity use a law to come after somebody because they have a religious view,” he said. “I truly believe Brad Avakian is trying to send a message. I don’t think the constitution of the state of Oregon means anything to these people.”