Oregon’s labor commissioner issued a final decree on Thursday forcing the owners of a family bakery in Oregon to pay a lesbian couple $135,000 for refusing to bake a cake for their wedding.
The commissioner, Brad Avakian, ruled that Aaron and Melissa Klein, owners of Sweet Cakes by Melissa, must pay the hefty sum to Rachel and Laurel Bowman-Cryer for emotional anguish they claim to have suffered for being refused the cake.
“This case is not about a wedding cake or a marriage,” wrote Avakian, an elected official, according to The Oregonian. “It is about a business’s refusal to serve someone because of their sexual orientation. Under Oregon law, that is illegal.”
Oregon’s Equality Act of 2007 prohibits businesses from discriminating based on sexual orientation and other characteristics.
“Within Oregon’s public accommodations law is the basic principle of human decency that every person, regardless of their sexual orientation, has the freedom to fully participate in society,” Avakian stated.
On Jan. 17, 2013, Aaron Klein was working at the bakery when Rachel Cryer, as she was known then, entered the store and asked for a cake. Klein asked for the name of the bride and groom. When Cryer informed him that there would be two brides, Klein told her that he wouldn’t bake the cake.
“I said, ‘I’m very sorry, I believe I have wasted your time. We do not do cakes for same sex weddings,'” Klein told Cryer, he testified.
In Aug. 2013, the Bowman-Cryers filed a complaint with the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries over the denial. The agency opened an investigation and in Jan. 2014 filed charges against the Kleins for discrimination based on sexual orientation.
The agency initially suggested that the Kleins should pay the couple $75,000 apiece to settle the claim. But the bakery owners declined and pushed the case into arbitration.
When a settlement couldn’t be reached, the case went before Alan McCullough, a Bureau of Labor and Industries judge. McCullough, whose boss is Avakian, recommended forcing the Kleins to pay Rachel Bowman-Cryer $75,000 for emotional distress. Laurel Bowman-Cryer should be awarded $60,000, he recommended.
Avakian had final say-so on Thursday and upheld McCullough’s preliminary recommendation.
Avakian went further in his ruling, slapping the Kleins with a gag order that prohibits them from voicing their opinions about same-sex marriage.
“The Commissioner of the Bureau of Labor and Industries hereby orders [Aaron and Melissa Klein] to cease and desist from publishing, circulating, issuing or displaying, or causing to be published…any communication to the effect that any of the accommodations…will be refused, withheld from or denied to, or that any discrimination be made against, any person on account of their sexual orientation,” Avakian wrote, The Oregonian reported.
The Kleins responded to that gag order on their Facebook page and also suggested that they would appeal the overall decision.
“This effectively strips us of all our first amendment rights,” they wrote. “According to the state of Oregon we neither have freedom of religion or freedom of speech. We will NOT give up this fight, and we will NOT be silenced. We stand for God’s truth, God’s word and freedom for ALL americans.”
The Kleins’ attorney weighed in on Avakian’s ruling.
“Brad Avakian has been outspoken throughout this case about his intent to ‘rehabilitate’ those whose beliefs do not conform to the state’s ideas,” Anna Harmon told The Daily Signal. “Now he has ruled that the Kleins’ simple statement of personal resolve to be true to their faith is unlawful. This is a brazen attack on every American’s right to freely speak and imposes government orthodoxy on those who do not agree with government sanctioned ideas.”
The Bowman-Cryers issued a statement after the ruling, saying that the case had been “a terrible ordeal for our entire family.”
“We never imagined finding ourselves caught up in a fight for social justice,” the couple said. “We endured daily, hateful attacks on social media, received death threats and feared for our family’s safety, yet our goal remained steadfast. We were determined to ensure that this kind of blatant discrimination never happened to another couple, another family, another Oregonian.”
The Kleins, too, came under attack as the case played out. According to The Oregonian, Sweet Cakes’ delivery vehicle was vandalized and broken into on two occasions. The couple has also been harassed online and hounded by reporters and activists.