A closely watched dispute over an Oregon bakery’s refusal to do a wedding cake for a lesbian couple goes to court Tuesday.
Lawyers for the now-married couple, Rachel Cryer and Laurel Bowman, are expected to explain how the women were damaged when Aaron Klein, co-owner of Sweet Cakes by Melissa in Gresham, declined to take a wedding cake order from Ms. Cryer and her mother in January 2013.
Mr. Klein and his wife Melissa are devout Christians, and when Mr. Klein realized the cake order was for a same-sex wedding, he apologized to the women, but said his religion does not permit him to participate in such an event.
The Civil Rights Division of the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI) agreed with the Bowman-Cryers that the Kleins violated Oregon law against discrimination, and asked them to pay $75,000 to each woman for “emotional, mental and physical suffering,” plus “out of pocket expenses to be proven at hearing.”
At Tuesday’s hearing, Judge Alan McCullough, an administrative law judge with BOLI, will consider “damages, if any, suffered by the Complainants as a result of” Mr. Klein’s denial of service to them.
The case is one of several in which religious liberty rights are being tested against sexual orientation nondiscrimination laws.
According to a Jan. 29 interim order by Judge McCullough, when Ms. Cryer and her mother came into Sweet Cakes by Melissa to taste samples, Mr. Klein asked them for the names of the bride and groom. When told there were two brides, he said he and his wife did not participate in same-sex wedding ceremonies.
The women left, but Ms. Cryer’s mother quickly returned to the shop to discuss the issue. She told Mr. Klein that she had two gay children and her “truth had changed” regarding same-sex marriage.
In their discussion, Mr. Klein quoted Leviticus 18:22, saying, “You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination.”
This exchange could play a role in Judge McCullough’s final decision.
He has already ruled that Mr. Klein violated Oregon law because his “public accommodation” refused service based on sexual orientation. The judge has also tossed the argument that the Kleins were only refusing the same-sex wedding, not the women.
“The conduct, a marriage ceremony, is inextricably linked to a person’s sexual orientation,” Judge McCullough said in his Jan. 29 order, citing the BOLI legal argument.
Paul Thompson, an attorney for Ms. Cryer and Ms. Bowman, could not be reached on Monday. However, in February he told The Oregonian newspaper that Oregon state law against sexual orientation discrimination by businesses is “black and white.”
Attorney Anna Harmon, one of the lawyers for the Kleins, said Monday that the state has “the burden of proving” that the lesbian couple “were damaged” by the Kleins’ exercise of their First Amendment rights.”
“A government that tells you what you can’t say is bad enough,” Ms. Harmon said. “A government that tells you what you must say, and punishes you if you don’t, is frightening.”
Judge McCullough’s final order will go to Oregon Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian for his decision. According to The Oregonian, Mr. Avakian said in a 2013 comment on the Sweet Cakes by Melissa complaint that when businesses violate state law, “The goal is never to shut down a business. The goal is to rehabilitate.”
The Kleins, who are raising five children, closed their Gresham business and now sell baked goods and desserts from their private home.