PORTLAND, Ore. — The Oregon official who ordered a couple to pay heavy emotional damages to two lesbians for declining to create a cake for a same-sex “wedding,” resulting in the eventual shutdown of their bakery, lost his election bid last Tuesday.
Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI) Commissioner Brad Avakian sought to serve as Oregon’s Secretary of State, but was edged out by Republican challenger Dennis Richardson 47 to 43 percent—and in a state that is traditionally blue.
“His losing was a good sign that people don’t agree with somebody who is anti-constitutional to the nth degree,” Aaron Klein of the now former Sweet Cakes by Melissa told reporters. “He never recognized our religious constitutional rights in his office. He just ignored them.”
“He used his office to execute a personal bias and I think people thought he’d do the same with secretary of state,” he opined. “Most people don’t know his son is gay and he’s got a dog in the fight. For him, it’s personal.”
As previously reported, Avakian had fined Klein and his wife Melissa $135,000 in declaring that they had discriminated against two lesbian women for declining to help out with the 2014 event.
The Kleins had served the women, Rachel Cryer and Laurel Bowman, in other ways, and the women returned because the couple had treated them kindly.
“I have customers come in almost on a weekly basis that are homosexual,” Aaron Klein told reporters. “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.”
But because the Kleins said that they didn’t feel comfortable with fulfilling that particular order because of the event that it involved, the women filed a discrimination complaint against the bakers.
“We were being asked to participate in something that we could not participate in,” Klein’s wife, Melissa, stated, outlining that the wedding cake is one of the most personal and intricate parts of the occasion.
Some Christians believe that being a part of a same-sex event violates the biblical command in 1 Timothy 5:22 not to be “partakers in other men’s sins,” as well as the command in Ephesians 5:7, “Be not ye therefore partakers with them.”
After the Kleins were declared guilty of discrimination, Cryer and Bowman submitted individual lists of just under 100 aspects of suffering in order to receive damages. They included “acute loss of confidence,” “doubt,” “distrust of men,” “distrust of former friends,” “excessive sleep,” “discomfort,” “high blood pressure,” “impaired digestion,” “loss of appetite,” “migraine headaches,” “loss of pride,” “mental rape,” “resumption of smoking habit,” “shock” “stunned,” “surprise,” “uncertainty,” “weight gain” and “worry.”
But the Kleins told the court that they too had suffered because of the attacks that they received over their desire to live out their Christian faith in the workplace. They stated that they endured “mafia tactics” as their car was vandalized and broken into on two occasions, their vendors were harassed by homosexual advocates resulting in some businesses breaking ties with them, and they received threatening emails wishing rape, death and Hell upon the family.
As a result, the Kleins had to close their business and move it into their private home.
In April 2015, Alan McCullough, an administrative judge with the bureau, recommended a payment of $135,000, with one of the women receiving $75,000 and the other $60,000. Prosecutors had sought damages of $75,000 each.
Two months later, Avakian officially accepted McCollough’s recommendation and ordered the Kleins to pay the women $135,000 in light of the damages Cryer and Bowman listed.
The Kleins then asked for a stay of the order, but were denied. As the couple initially refused to pay the damages, believing that they had done no wrong, officials moved to docket the judgment and seek permission to place a property lien against the Kleins or collect the money in other ways.
In December, the state emptied all of the Klein’s personal banking accounts—including money set aside to pay their tithe. The Kleins told reporters following the incident that they had three personal bank accounts: one checking, one savings, and one account marked “God’s money” for their tithe at church. The three accounts contained just under $7,000 total.
Faced with a nine percent interest penalty for not paying the $135,000, the Kleins then opted to submit a check for the amount in full, using money donated by supporters that was not in their personal bank account. They dropped off a check for $136,927.07 after realizing that the government had seized their personal accounts.
The funds are currently in an escrow account pending the final outcome of the case, which is on appeal.
This case “is about the state forcing business owners to publicly facilitate ceremonies, rituals, and other expressive events with which they have fundamental and often, as in this case, religious disagreements,” the appeal brief reads. “In this case, BOLI misinterpreted [the law], mistakenly concluding that declining to facilitate same-sex weddings is legally the same as refusing to sell goods or services to gay people.”
The Kleins have since shut down their business altogether.