Years Later, Trouble for Bakers Who Refused to Make Lesbian Couple's Wedding Cake

State officials have ruled the religious bakers owe a gay couple damages.

(Photo: NobMouse/Flickr)

Feb 3, 2015· 2 MIN READ
Samantha Cowan is an associate editor for culture.

It’s been more than two years since an Oregon bakery turned away a lesbian couple looking to purchase a wedding cake, but now the women are one step closer to justice—and financial compensation.

The refusal to bake a cake for the gay couple means the bakers are in violation of Oregon's antidiscrimination laws, Oregon state officials said Monday. The owners of the bakeshop, located outside Portland, could face fines of more than $150,000.

A hearing in March will determine the amount of damages Rachel Cryer and Laurel Bowman (now Bowman-Cryer) receive. The married couple are seeking $75,000 each for “emotional, mental, and physical suffering,” along with reimbursement for out-of-pocket expenses, according to the Bureau of Labor and Industries report.

The two women contacted Sweet Cakes by Melissa in January 2013 in hopes of purchasing a cake for their commitment ceremony. Bakery owners Aaron and Melissa Klein denied the request on discovering the cake would be used in celebration of a union of two women, citing their religious beliefs.

Although same-sex marriage was not yet legalized in the state at the time of the refusal—that win came in May 2014—the Oregon Equality Act, protecting LGBT people from discrimination, was instituted back in 2007.

This law prompted the couple to file a claim with the Bureau of Labor and Industries in January 2014. "The law is black and white," Paul Thompson, a lawyer advising the couple, told The Oregonian on Monday. "You cannot discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation."

He’s right. Under state law, private businesses are specifically prohibited from refusing service based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Twenty-one states and Washington, D.C., have similar “public accommodation” laws that require private businesses to provide equal service to all. Businesses that want to turn away LGBT customers would have better luck setting up shop in states such as Texas, Florida, or Ohio, where no such protection for the LGBT community exists.

Religious organizations and schools in Oregon get an exemption from this act, but “the bakery is not a religious institution under law,” bureau spokesperson Charlie Burr said last week in a statement. So even though the Kleins have deeply held religious beliefs—just check out the quotes on their website—using them to turn away clients is illegal.

The Kleins did not immediately respond to TakePart’s request for a comment Tuesday, but they recently posted on Facebook: “Even though it seems as if we are being thrown into the Lions den. We will continue to stand for the Lord, our faith will not waiver. We fully trust in our heavenly father. He is able to deliver us from this, but even if He doesn't we are not going to compromise on God's truth in order to appease man.”

Although the Kleins are still operating out of their home, Sweet Cakes closed its doors in September 2013, when the case gained national attention and the fear of financial ruin from high fines became increasingly likely.

Hoping to counter discrimination with love, a gay man attempted to raise money for the Kleins by crowdfunding back in October. Despite his noble intentions, the account has not fared well, with less than $4,500 in donations received in the past five months—rather far from its goal of $150,000.