PORTLAND, Ore. — An Oregon couple who was ordered 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, delivered an emotional plea on Wednesday as they stood outside of the courthouse where their appeal was taking place.
“I have a strong faith in God, who I love with all my heart. My whole life is dedicated to living for Him in the best way that I know how,” Melissa Klein of the now-closed Sweet Cakes by Melissa read in a statement before reporters outside of the Oregon Court of Appeals.
“America is a place where the government can’t force you to violate your religious beliefs or tell you what to believe, but we feel like that is exactly what happened to us. We lost everything we loved and worked so hard to build,” she said, breaking down in tears.
“We just want the government to tolerate and accept differences of opinion, so we can continue to follow our faith,” Klein explained. “We hope that, even if people have different beliefs from us, that they will show each other tolerance and that we can peacefully live together and still follow our faith. That’s all we want.”
As previously reported, Klein and her husband Aaron were fined $135,000 two years ago after Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI) Commissioner Brad Avakian declared 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,” 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 2015, 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.
Outside of the Oregon Court of Appeals, Melissa Klein explained that she would be happy to serve the women again, and noted that the situation was not about who they were; it was about an event that Klein couldn’t personally participate in because of her faith.
“I was happy to serve this couple in the past for another event, and I would be happy to serve them again,” she said. “But I couldn’t participate in a ceremony that goes against what I believe.”
“The government should never force someone to violate their conscience or their beliefs,” Kelly Shackelford, president of First Liberty Institute, which is representing the Kleins in court, also said in a statement following oral argument. “In a diverse and pluralistic society, people of good will should be able to peacefully coexist with different beliefs. We hope the court will uphold the Kleins’ rights to free speech and religious liberty.”