An appeals court has upheld a 2015 decision by the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries that fined a bakery $135,000 for refusing to sell a wedding cake to a lesbian couple.
Aaron and Melissa Klein, owners of Sweet Cakes by Melissa, had appealed the ruling, claiming making such a cake would violate their religious beliefs. Theirs was the first of several notable public-accommodations cases pitting Christian vendors against same-sex couple: Earlier this month, the Supreme Court heard opening arguments in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, involving a Colorado baker, Jack Phillips, who similarly refused to sell a wedding cake to a gay couple.
The Masterpiece ruling could have a profound impact on both religious-freedom laws in the U.S. and anti-discrimination laws that protect the LGBT community.
In a statement Rachel and Laurel Bowman-Cryer, who had tried to order the cake from the Kleins, said today’s ruling proved “all are equal under the law” and should be treated as such. “Oregon will not allow a ’Straight Couples Only’ sign to be hung in bakeries or other stores.”
While the 2007 Oregon Equality Act does provide exemptions for religious organizations it does not permit private businesses to discriminate based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
First Liberty Institute, which is representing the Kleins, says it’s considering further appeals. FLI attorneys argued Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian violated the couple’s rights as to free speech as artists, their right to religious freedom, and their right to due process.
The appellate court claimed the Kleins’ cakes do not qualify as works as art: “Although we accept that the Kleins imbue each wedding cake with their own aesthetic choices, they have made no showing that other people will necessarily experience any wedding cake that the Kleins create predominantly as ’expression’ rather than as food.”
When the Kleins closed their suburban Portland shop in 2013, their supporters blamed the “gay mafia”: “These thugs are armed to the hilt, and stand ready to advance their pro-LGBT, anti-Christian, anti-American agenda,” claimed The Strident Conservative website at the time.
It wasn’t all bad news for the couple, though: A crowdfunding campaign netted the Kleins $500,000, more than three times the fine they were assessed.