A Christian-owned bakery in Oregon faces up to a $135,000 fine from state regulators after it was determined that its owners refused to bake a cake intended for a same-sex marriage.
According to George Rede of The Oregonian, an administrative law judge for the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries, or BOLI, ruled on Friday that a lesbian couple, Rachel and Laurel Bowman-Cryer, should receive a combined $135,000 in damages from the owners of Sweet Cakes by Melissa due to emotional distress. Anna Harmon, an attorney representing business owners Aaron and Melissa Klein, thought the ruling set a dangerous legal precedent.
"It's a shocking result and it shows the state's relentless campaign to punish Oregonians who live and work according to their faith," Harmon said. "This is real money that Aaron and Melissa are going to have to pay that otherwise would be used to pay their mortgage and feed their kids."
Rede reported that the judgment centered on an incident back in January 2013, when Aaron turned away Rachel and her mother from a previously scheduled cake-tasting appointment. The same-sex couple then complained to the state agency in August 2013, which then brought charges in January 2014 that the business owners unlawfully discriminated against the couple due to their sexual orientation.
"The facts of this case clearly demonstrate that the Kleins unlawfully discriminated against the Complainants," BOLI said in a statement. "Under Oregon law, businesses cannot discriminate or refuse service based on sexual orientation, just as they cannot turn customers away because of race, sex, disability, age or religion. Our agency is committed to fair and thorough enforcement of Oregon civil rights laws, including the Equality Act of 2007."
Klein told Rede that both his family and business paid a high price for that decision.
"The Sweet Cakes by Melissa car was vandalized and broken into twice," Rede wrote. "Photographers and florists severed ties with the company, eventually forcing Sweet Cakes to close the Gresham shop in September 2013. The business now operates out of the couple's home in Sandy."
Harmon told Rede that her clients would have 10 days to file exceptions to the proposed order. In addition, the Kleins had the option of appealing their case to the Oregon Court of Appeals.
"The proposed order is 110 pages long," Harmon said. "To the extent it calls for $135,000 in damages, you can be sure we'll object to that."
According to Rede, Basic Rights Oregon, an LGBT advocacy group, praised BOLI's actions.
"Religious freedom is a fundamental part of America, and is written into our state's constitution already," Basic Rights Oregon co-director Nancy Haque said. "But those beliefs don't entitle any of us to discriminate against others. Religious liberty should not be used to discriminate against people."
Todd Starnes of Fox News reported that the Family Research Council helped established a GoFundMe account to help the Kleins. However, the campaign was pulled offline by the crowdfunding website on Friday despite the fact over $100,000 had been raised.
"After careful review by our team, we have found the 'Support Sweet Cakes By Melissa' campaign to be in violation of our Terms and Conditions," the message from GoFundMe read. "The money raised thus far will still be made available for withdrawal."
Tony Perkins, the president of Family Research Council, told Starnes that the penalty levied against the Kleins was quite harsh.
"The state of Oregon has given a new meaning to shotgun weddings," Perkins said. "You will be forced to participate in same-sex weddings and violate your beliefs."
As for the Kleins, Aaron told Starnes that they were not upset by GoFundMe's decision to halt the campaign, although they did express disappointment.
"If GoFundMe does not believe in our cause or what we are doing - that's their right," Aaron said. "And that's what we are fighting for. We should have that right, too. If it goes against our faith or beliefs we should be able to say we won't do that."
Melissa contended to Starnes that the state of Oregon made an example of them as a warning to other Christian business owners.
"They are trying to say - look what will happen to you if you decide to live by your faith," she said. "They won't be satisfied until we lose everything."
The Kleins added that despite the fact their business has been shuttered, they felt that "gay rights activists" won't stop harassing them until they "put us out on the street."
"All Americans should be free to live and work by their faith without the fear of the government punishing them," Aaron said.