The state of Oregon has decided that the Christian owners of a bakery would be forced to pay $135,000 to a lesbian couple after refusing to bake a cake for their wedding more than two years ago. The case has placed a spotlight on balancing religious and personal freedom along with the government's role in preventing discrimination.
According to a report from KATU and the Associated Press, Oregon's Bureau of Labor and Industries ruled on Thursday that bakery owners Aaron and Melissa Klein would have to pay a combined $135,000 for emotional damages to the victims, Rachel and Laurel Bowman-Cryer. A judge found the business, Sweet Cakes by Melissa, guilty of unlawful discrimination against a same-sex couple in its refusal to bake a cake for their wedding.
"This case is not about a wedding cake or a marriage," the state agency's order stated. "It is about a business's refusal to serve someone because of their sexual orientation. Under Oregon law, that is illegal."
The state agency cited Oregon's "public accommodations law" in determining the damages.
"Within Oregon's public accommodations law is the basic principle of human decency that every person, regardless of their sexual orientation, has the freedom to fully participate in society," the order said. "The ability to enter public places, to shop, to dine, to move about unfettered by bigotry."
According to KATU, Oregon passed the Equality Act of 2007, which stated that businesses could not discriminate based on sexual orientation; anti-discrimination laws already existed for race, sex, disability, age and religion. However, while exemptions are granted for "religious organizations, schools, and serving alcohol to minors," private business do not qualify for them.
"This is a shocking result which shows the state's relentless campaign to punish Oregonians who live and work according to their faith," attorney Anna Harmon, who represents the Kleins, said. "Aaron and Melissa have worked hard for what they have."
Harmon contended that at the time the cake request was made to the Christian-owned bakery, same-sex marriage had not become legal yet in Oregon. KATU reported that the Kleins can now file with the Oregon Court of Appeal.
"They are living on the fruits of American entrepreneurship," Harmon said. "Now the State of Oregon, through an administrative agency, has ordered that all they worked for should be taken away simply because they declined to participate in an event which violated their religious beliefs."
Scott Shackford of Reason pointed out that to get around the "public accommodation" rule, the Kleins closed their store and operate their business out of their home by order only. He read the order and found a few interesting things.
"First of all, the state agency recommended, remarkably, that the Kleins also be required to pay for the emotional damages caused to the couple by media coverage and social media reactions to the case, because the Kleins appeared in the media a couple of times to defend and explain themselves," Shackford wrote. "They wanted the bakers to have to pay further because of the emotional toll of conversations and media coverage over much of which the Kleins had absolutely no control."
Shackford reported that the $135,000 was "based just on the result of the Kleins telling the couple they would not make them a wedding cake." He thought the order describing the emotional damage done to the lesbian couple was written in an "absurd way."
"It was a cake. A cake! She has not been rejected from society," Shackford wrote of the same-sex couple. "There is no actual argument or evidence presented that their ability to live their lives fully has been impaired by one rejection. She sounds like she was driven nearly to suicide because she was rejected by a couple of bakers."
The Kleins told Todd Starnes of Fox News that their children were subjected to death threats for refusing to participate in a same-sex wedding. In addition, their business took a hit from boycotts and pickets.
"We were just running our business the best we could - following the Lord's example," Melissa said. "I'm just blown away by the ruling. They are punishing us for not participating in the wedding."
According to Starnes, the Kleins have also accused the BOLI of ordering them not to speak publicly about the case. Aaron indicated that he would "refuse to comply" with the order.
"When my constitutional freedoms have been violated by the state I'm going to speak out," Aaron said. "That's the way it is."
Shackford questioned whether or not the power of the state was even necessary to intervene in this case.
"What frequently gets ignored in these political battles-aside from the concept that people should have the right to associate (or not associate) with whomever they choose-is whether the law is the best tool to resolve these conflicts," Shackford wrote. "There is little indication that gay couples actually need the government to force resistant religious bakers to fire up their mixers in order to have the wedding of their dreams."