Oregon Bakery Must Pay $135,000 for Refusing to Make Wedding Cake for Gay Couple

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Sweet Cakes, back in its still-open days. Photo: Everton Bailey Jr./AP

Oregon’s appeals court has written what could be the final chapter in the Sweet Cakes by Melissa anti-gay bakery saga. As a quick refresher, the drama’s been more or less continuous since 2013, when owners Melissa and Aaron Klein refused to make a wedding cake for Rachel and Laurel Bowman-Cryer because the couple was lesbian and they’re Christian. The Bowman-Cryers filed a complaint, arguing that the Kleins broke a state law against discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation. Oregon Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian agreed, and in 2015 ordered the Kleins to pay $135,000 in damages.

The Kleins argued that the six-figure sum was akin to “being thrown into the Lions den” and would bankrupt them. Supporters forked over more than $500,000 in donations, some of it via a GoFundMe crowdfunding page that the site eventually shut down, arguing that the campaign violated its terms of use. Ultimately, the mess ended up before the Oregon Court of Appeals, which at long last issued its final ruling yesterday.

It says that Avakian’s order didn’t deny the Kleins their free-speech rights, partly because the baker duo “made no showing that the state targeted them for enforcement because of their religious beliefs,” and that a business can’t turn away customers whose sexual orientation is at odds with the owner’s personal belief system.

In a statement, Avakian says the appellate ruling “sends a strong signal that Oregon remains open to all,” while the Bowman-Cryers are celebrating it as an “important victory” and blow against “a sweeping license to discriminate.” But the Oregonian adds that the fallout hasn’t been minor for Avakian — it says that his fateful order will likely go down as “the most controversial ruling” in his nearly ten years as labor commissioner. He’s decided not to run for reelection when his term ends next year.

Nonetheless, the Kleins’ brouhaha isn’t even the highest-profile anti-gay cake case around. That distinction belongs to Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, the one Colorado’s evangelical baker Jack Phillips got appealed up to the Supreme Court. Phillips also refused to bake a gay couple’s wedding cake, leading Colorado courts to rule that he must, and him to voluntarily exit the wedding-cake business.

Bakery Must Pay $135K for Refusing to Make Gay Wedding Cake