The State of Oregon’s Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian issued a preliminary ruling last week to the Sweet Cakes Bakery, owned by Aaron and Melissa Klein, saying they must pay $135,000 in “damages for emotional and mental suffering resulting from the denial of service” to a same-sex couple after the Kleins refused to provide a cake for their wedding.
The trouble began in 2013 when a lesbian couple attempted to order a cake from the Kleins’ business for their wedding. Aaron Klein explained that he and his wife’s religious beliefs precluded them from participating in a homosexual ceremony, so they could not provide a cake for it. The lesbian couple filed a complaint with the Oregon Labor Commission claiming discrimination. Avakian not only ordered the Kleins to pay damages but also issued a suppression or “gag” order requiring them to cease-and-desist from claiming they will not provide services for same-sex weddings, either publicly or in their place of business.
“This case is not about a wedding cake or a marriage. It is about a business’s refusal to serve someone because of their sexual orientation,” said Avakian.
The Kleins claim they are being stripped of their First Amendment rights, both to free speech and religion. Klein also states that he regularly serves homosexuals, saying there is a difference between serving homosexuals in general and having to personally facilitate same-sex ceremonies, which is an act of participation. “I have customers come in almost on a weekly basis who are homosexual,” he said. “They can buy my stuff. I sell stuff. I talk with them. That’s fine. … This was not the first time we’ve served these girls.”
In Avakian’s ruling he notes he finds “no distinction” between refusing to serve a same-sex wedding and discriminating against people because of their sexual orientation.
The Kleins plan on fighting the ruling in court and are refusing to pay the damages. The Kleins’ attorney, Anna Harmon, called the judgment a “shocking result which shows the state’s relentless campaign to punish Oregonians who live and work according to their faith.”