When Aaron and Melissa Klein refused to bake a cake promoting gay marriage in 2013, they never imagined it would mean the end of their business and a personal liability suit that could result in the couple paying up to $150,000 in fines and damages.
The Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries ruled on Tuesday that the couple, who owned Sweet Cakes by Melissa in Gresham, Oregon, will have to pay the money to the lesbian couple who asked for the cake to be made.
"You cannot discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation," Paul Thompson, the attorney representing the lesbian couple, said in a statement to The Oregonian. "The entire time, I felt the law was very much on our side because the law is black and white."
The trouble started in January of 2013 when Laurel Bowman approached the bakery about making a cake for her upcoming wedding to another woman. When Melissa Klein told Bowman that they don't do cakes for same-sex weddings, Bowman filed an anti-discrimination complaint with the labor bureau charging that the bakers had violated the Oregon Equality Act of 2007.
While the Kleins didn't officially label their bakery as a religious institution, they say that they have always "been jointly committed to live their lives and operate their business according to their Christian religious convictions," according to a court affidavit.
The couple believed that they had the right to exercise their religious beliefs in their own privately owned business, but they were wrong. Oregon state law bans discrimination against LGBT people in public places just as it does for "race, sex, age, disability, or religion," Bureau spokesman Charlie Burr said in a statement.
But the Kleins' attorney sees the ruling as "wrong and dangerous," voicing her thoughts on the precedent it will set in the future. "Americans should not have to choose between adhering to their faith or closing their business, but that is what this decision means," she said.
The Kleins contend that they meant no hostility toward the couple, who have been customers of theirs for years, but simply felt the need to stick by their religious beliefs. "I believe that marriage is a religious institution ordained by God," Aaron Klein said. "I'd rather have my kids see their dad stand up for what he believes in than to see him bow down because one person complained."
The Kleins now must wait for the official ruling on March 10 to see how much of the legal fines they'll need to pay, but the total could be as high as $150,000. The couple admits that that amount would bankrupt them and be a concern for the future of them and their five children.
The state's Labor Commissioner, Brad Avakian, will ultimately decide the family's fate, but it doesn't look good for them as Avakian has a history of siding against Christians in similar cases. In 2013, he told the Oregonian that it was the government's desire to "rehabilitate" businesses like the Kleins'.
But Aaron Klein told Fox News that there will be no rehabilitation because it's a matter of religious beliefs, not right or wrong.
"There's nothing wrong with what we believe," he said. "It's a biblical point of view. It's my faith. It's my religion."