Oregon’s labor commissioner has ordered the owners of a Portland-area bakery to pay $135,000 in damages to a lesbian couple for whom they declined to bake a wedding cake.
Aaron and Melissa Klein are one of several Christian business owners across the country facing state-ordered retribution for refusing to participate in same-sex wedding ceremonies. Religious liberty experts say these kinds of challenges will become more common now that the U.S. Supreme Court has legalized same-sex marriage. In his dissenting opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts said he expects the court will soon have to consider a case that pits the rights of gay couples against business owners who object to same-sex marriage for religious reasons.
It could be the Kleins’ case.
“According to the state of Oregon we neither have freedom of religion or freedom of speech,” the couple wrote in a post to the Sweet Cakes by Melissa Facebook page. “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.”
Anna Harmon, one of the attorneys representing the Kleins, told OregonLive she expected to appeal today’s order: “That’s up to our clients. I believe at this point they are intending to preserve their constitutional rights as much as they can, and that would look like an appeal.”
Any appeal would first appear before the Oregon Court of Appeals. But it eventually could end up at the U.S. Supreme Court. Despite Roberts’ prediction, it’s not clear whether the court would take the case. In 2014, the justices declined to hear an appeal from New Mexico photographer Elaine Huguenin, letting stand a state Supreme Court ruling against her for declining in 2007 to take photos at a same-sex ceremony.
In a statement issued about his decision, Oregon Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian equated the Kleins’ actions to bigotry.
“This case is not about a wedding cake or a marriage,” Avakian wrote. “It is about a business’s refusal to serve someone because of their sexual orientation. Under Oregon law, that is illegal. 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. The ability to enter public places, to shop, to dine, to move about unfettered by bigotry.”
The Kleins and other Christian-owned businesses in similar situations have said they do not mind serving gay customers but do not want to be forced to use their artistic talents to support something they don’t believe in.
Today’s fine strips them of their First Amendment rights, the couple wrote. But they are undaunted in clinging to their beliefs.
“We are here to obey God not man, and we will not conform to this world,” they wrote. “If we were to lose everything it would be totally worth it for our Lord who gave his one and only son, Jesus, for us!”
— by Leigh Jones | WNS