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Judge rules against bakers who could face $150,000 fine

GRESHAM, Ore. — Christian bakers who declined to provide a cake for a same-sex commitment ceremony violated Oregon law and may face a hefty fine, a state agency has announced.

An administrative law judge ruled that Aaron and Melissa Klein unlawfully discriminated against a lesbian couple in 2013 by refusing their request for a cake, thereby breaking a state law that protects civil rights based on sexual orientation. The judge, Alan McCullough, issued an interim order in the case Jan. 29, and Oregon’s Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI) announced his decision Feb. 2.

A March 10 hearing will determine the compensation to be awarded the same-sex couple. The fine against the Kleins could reach $150,000, a BOLI spokesman told USA Today.

The Kleins are among a growing number of wedding service providers whose religious freedom is threatened by the expansion of legalized, same-sex marriage. Gay marriage is now legal in 36 states, including Oregon, and the District of Columbia. Bakers, florists, photographers and other professionals who provide products for weddings have at times been forced to service same-sex ceremonies despite their belief that marriage is only between a man and a woman.

Aaron Klein — co-owner with his wife of Sweet Cakes by Melissa in Gresham, Ore., east of Portland — declined in January 2013 a request by Laurel Bowman for a cake for her ceremony with Rachel Cryer based on his religious convictions. Bowman and Cryer had a commitment ceremony in 2013 and a wedding in 2014 after a federal judge struck down Oregon’s ban on same-sex marriage.

After a public backlash, the Kleins — who have five children — closed their bakery and began making cakes from home.

In his ruling, McCullough said the Kleins’ effort to separate their refusal to bake the cake from the sexual orientation of the couple failed. As the BOLI contends, McCullough said, “there is simply no reason to distinguish between services for a wedding ceremony between two persons of the same sex and the sexual orientation of that couple. The conduct, a marriage ceremony, is inextricably linked to a person’s sexual orientation.”

Anna Harmon, a lawyer for the Kleins, told The Portland Oregonian, “This is a wrong and dangerous result for religious liberty and rights of conscience in Oregon. … Americans should not have to choose between adhering to their faith [and] closing their business, but that is what this decision means.”

— BP

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