Oregon couple who refused to bake for lesbian couple have their charges upheld by court
In January 2013, the owner of Oregon bakery Sweet Cakes refused to serve a lesbian couple. Now, nearly 5 years later, a court has upheld the initial decision that should see them pay out a hefty fine.
The owners of Oregon bakery Sweet Cakes who had refused to serve a same-sex couple citing the reason that their religious beliefs did not allow them to do so has lost their appeal and will have to pay out $135,000 in emotional-distress damages. In 2013, the owners of the now-closed Gresham bakery had told lesbian couple Rachel and Laurel Bowman-Cryer that they could not bake a cake for them, leading to a civil suit being filed against them with the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries.
Following that initial ruling, Aaron and Melissa Klein, the owners of the aforementioned bakery, had argued that the state Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian had violated state and federal laws by forcing them to pay the damages. According to their lawyers, Avakian and the State Bureau of Labor and Industries violated the Kleins' rights as artists to free speech, their rights to religious freedom and their rights as defendants to a due process.
The case had caught national attention when the news of it broke, sparking a debate over religious freedom and discrimination against gays. Once the fines against the couples were levied, one of their attorneys had deemed it 'unconstitutional,' calling Avakian 'an overpowered elected official using his position to root out thought and speech with which he personally disagrees.'
The issue had cropped up in the first place because a 2007 Oregon law protects the rights of LGBT people in employment, housing, and public accommodations. While it does provide an exemption for religious organizations, the agency ruled that the exemption does not allow private businesses to discriminate against potential customers; the latter of which was violated by the Kleins.
It all began when Rachel Bowman-Cryer went to the suburban Portland bakery of the Kleins with her mother in January 2013. They picked the bakery because Rachel had previously purchased a 'raspberry fantasy cake' for her mother's sixth wedding from the same bakery and wanted one for hers as well.
They met with Aaron Klein, who subsequently asked them for the names of the bride and groom. When they told him that it would be two brides, he replied: "I think we may have wasted your time. We don't do same-sex weddings." As Rachel went back to her car in tears, her mother told Klein that she had once thought like him, but her 'truth had changed' when she had two gay children. Klein responded by quoting Leviticus: 'You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination.'
Despite their appeals, the Oregon Court sided with the state's decision this past Thursday, saying that the Kleins failed to show the state targeted them for their religious beliefs. The judges also ruled that the public statements made by Avakian before deciding the case did not, in fact, establish a lack of impartiality.
This decision comes in the wake of the Supreme Court hearing arguments in the high-profile case of the Colorado baker who refused to bake a cake for a same-sex couple. That particular baker, Jack Phillips, had raised a similar argument to that of the Klein's, claiming that his artistic freedom was being violated. After the Oregon court made its ruling, Avakian said: "Today's ruling sends a strong ruling that Oregon remains open to all."
Explaining its reasoning, the Oregon court stated that while the Kleins' argument that their cakes entail an artistic expression is 'entitled to be taken seriously,' it is not enough to assert their cakes are pieces of art.
One of the paragraphs in the 62-page opinion read: "Although we accept that the Kleins imbue each wedding cake with their own aesthetic choices, they have made no showing that other people will necessarily experience any wedding cake that the Kleins create predominantly as 'expression' rather than as food."
Rachel and Laurel Bowman-Cryer were unsurprisingly pleased with the court's decision, releasing a statement through their attorney: "It does not matter how you were born or who you love. All of us are equal under the law and should be treated equally. Oregon will not allow a 'Straight Couples Only' sign to be hung in bakeries or other stores."
The Kleins had managed to raise a whopping $370,000, twice the money required to pay the fine, through the website 'Continue to Give,' which calls itself a 'faith-based giving platform' for 'churches, missionaries, nonprofits, individuals, and adopting parents.' Prior to that, they had raised $109,000 with a GoFvundMe campaign, but that page was shut down by the company as it reportedly violated the site's terms of service.
Despite initially refusing to pay the amount when the fine was levied in 2015, Aaron Klein is said to have dropped off a check in December that year for $136,927.07, which included interest. However, because he and his wife appealed that order, the money was never released to the couple. Even though the recent developments are a win, it's likely that the Kleins might take it all the way to the Supreme Court, meaning it will still be a while before Rachel and Laurel see any of the money.
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