GRESHAM, Ore. — A judge with the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries has ruled that the Christian owners of a bakery in the state are guilty of discrimination for declining to make a “wedding” cake for a lesbian couple, thus moving them to the sentencing phase where heavy fines could bankrupt their business.
Spokesman Charlie Burr wrote in a statement on Monday that the bakers, which regularly serve homosexuals, could not use their religious beliefs as a reason to refuse the order because a business is not considered a “religious institution.”
“The law provides an exemption for religious organizations and schools, but does not allow private businesses to discriminate based on sexual orientation, just as they cannot legally deny service based on race, sex, age, disability or religion,” he said. “The bakery is not a religious institution under the law.”
As previously reported, Aaron and Melissa Klein operate Sweet Cakes by Melissa in Gresham, which is now operated from the couple’s home after the Kleins’ shut their doors due to harassment. In January 2013, Aaron was approached by a mother and her daughter as the two were interested in a cake for the daughter’s upcoming wedding—to her lesbian partner.
“My first question was what’s the wedding date,” Klein told television station KTW in Portland. “My next question was [the] bride and groom’s name. … The girl giggled a little bit and said, ‘It’s two brides.’”
He stated that he then informed the women that the bakery does not make cakes for homosexual events.
“I apologized for wasting their time and said that unfortunately, we do not do same-sex marriages,” Klein explained.
The women then left Sweet Cakes upset about the incident, and later, one of them filed a complaint with the state. The Oregon Attorney General’s office soon launched an investigation against the Klein’s as the state’s non-discrimination laws prevent public accommodations from being denied to any individual on the basis of “race, color, religion, sex [or] sexual orientation.”
But Klein states that he regularly serves homosexuals. He believes that there is a difference between serving homosexuals in general, and having to personally facilitate same-sex ceremonies, which is an act of participation.
“I have customers come in almost on a weekly basis that are homosexual,” he said. “They can buy my stuff. I sell stuff. I talk with them. That’s fine. … This was not the first time we’ve served these girls.”
“We were being asked to participate in something that we could not participate in,” Klein’s wife, Melissa, noted.
The couple expressed concern last October that if they were indeed forced to pay a fine for declining the cake over their Christian convictions, the penalty would “definitely” bankrupt the family. Reports on the amount of the fine differ, ranging from $75,000 to $150,000.
Now, following a guilty verdict from the Bureau of Labor and Industries, the ruling will move the case into the penalty phase. A hearing is set for March 10 to determine the damages.
“The entire time, I felt the law was very much on our side because the law is black and white,” attorney Paul Thompson, who represented the lesbian women, told OregonLive following the decision.
But Anna Harmon, who represented the Kleins, said that the ruling was “wrong and dangerous.”
“Americans should not have to choose between adhering to their faith or closing their business,” she said, “but that is what this decision means.”