Metro Weekly

Oregon bakery wants to overturn decision that they discriminated against lesbian couple

Owners of Sweet Cakes by Melissa say they should be exempt from Oregon's pro-LGBTQ nondiscrimination law

Sweet Cakes Aaron and Melissa Klein
Melissa and Aaron Klein – Photo: Facebook.

The owners of a bakery who refused to sell a wedding cake to a lesbian couple want to overturn a lower court ruling against them.

Melissa and Aaron Klein, owners of the Gresham-based Sweet Cakes by Melissa, were previously found guilty of having violated Oregon’s law prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and ordered to pay $135,000 in damages to the couple they turned away.

The case centers around an incident from January 2013, when Laurel and Rachel Bowman-Cryer, a couple of 10 years raising two foster children, entered Sweet Cakes bakery seeking to purchase a wedding cake. But when Aaron Klein learned that the cake was for a lesbian couple, he said, “We don’t do same sex weddings,” and called he couple’s relationship an “abomination.”

The Bowman-Cryers filed complaints with the Oregon Department of Labor and Industries and Department of Justice alleging they had been the victims of discrimination. But Aaron and Melissa Klein took their case to the media to argue that selling a cake intended for a same-sex wedding violates their religious beliefs, and that they should be exempt from Oregon law because of their belief that marriage is only between one man and one woman.

In the course of defending themselves, they essentially “doxxed” the Bowman-Cryers by sharing private information about them, including their address, resulting in a hoard of right-wing death threats — so much so that the Bowman-Cryers almost lost custody of their foster children.

The Department of Labor and Industries found that the Kleins had discriminated against the Bowman-Cryers and ordered them to pay damages. The Kleins appealed the decision, with the Oregon Court of Appeals upheld the lower court’s ruling. Even though they appealed to the Oregon Supreme Court, the Kleins paid the fine, but publicly said they hoped to recoup the money if the decision is ever overturned.

The Kleins, with the assistance of the conservative organization First Liberty Institute, are now asking the Oregon Supreme Court to overturn the lower court’s decision and exempt them from abiding by the state’s nondiscrimination law in cases where they feel their religious beliefs are being violated. The U.S. Supreme Court is currently deciding the Masterpiece Cakeshop case, where a baker refused service to a gay couple. A decision in that case is expected later this spring.

But Lambda Legal is arguing that the lower courts were correct in their assessment, asking the Supreme Court to uphold the finding that the Kleins were guilty of violating the nondiscrimination law.

“Last December, the Oregon Court of Appeals issued a thoughtful, thorough, and, most importantly, completely unsurprising ruling that the religious practice protections of the U.S. Constitution were never intended to be used as an excuse to discriminate,” Nancy Marcus, a law and policy senior attorney at Lambda Legal, said in a statement. “The ruling was consistent with decisions by courts across the country that have similarly refused to create a new constitutional right of businesses to exempt themselves from civil rights laws, and does not warrant review by the Oregon Supreme Court. It is time to let Laurel and Rachel get on with their lives.

“As we argued in our friend-of-the-court brief to the U.S. Supreme Court in Masterpiece Cakeshop, where we highlighted Rachel and Laurel’s experience, it’s not about cake: it’s about protecting LGBT people and families from being forced to endure bigotry and abuse in countless places, from fertility clinic to funeral home, and everywhere in between,” Marcus added.

The Bowman-Cryers issued statements saying they hoped the Oregon Supreme Court would stand firm and not overturn the lower courts’ decisions. 

“It is deeply wounding to us that this bakery is so determined to deny service to us just because we’re lesbians that they are trying to take this case all the way to the Oregon Supreme Court,” Rachel Bowman-Cryer said. “No one should be subjected to discrimination, disdain and abuse for who they are and whom they love.”

“Having lived through all this we just hope the Oregon Supreme Court will stop this nightmare, let the Court of Appeals decision stand, keep intact the Oregon laws that are supposed to protect us, and allow us to move on with our lives in peace,” Laurel Bowman-Cryer added.

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