Bakers Fined $135,000 for Refusing to Make Gay Wedding Cake Appeal to Supreme Court

Aaron Klein talked before those gathered at the Omni Shoreham Hotel about the fallout from he and his wife's refusal to make a same-sex wedding cake.
Aaron Klein talked before those gathered at the Omni Shoreham Hotel about the fallout from he and his wife's refusal to make a same-sex wedding cake. | (Photo: Family Research Council/Carrie Russell)

The Oregon bakery couple that was fined $135,000 for not baking a custom cake for a lesbian wedding have appealed their case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The owners of Sweetcakes by Melissa in Gresham asked the nation's high court on Monday to deem the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries' decision to fine them for declining to bake a cake for the wedding of Rachel and Laurel Bowman-Cryer unconstitutional.

The fine, which the agency justified on grounds of the state's nondiscrimination law, effectively forced Aaron and Melissa Klein to close their bakery. In their quest to overturn the agency's decision, the Kleins have received the help of the First Liberty Institute and Boyden Gray & Associates.

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"Free Americans should not be compelled by the government to create a message that conflicts with their deepest convictions," Ambassador C. Boyden Gray said in a statement.

The appeal to the high court explains that the Kleins served all customers regardless of their sexual orientation but could not create a custom wedding cake for a marriage that they felt violated their religious convictions.

The document points out that the Kleins even sold a wedding cake to Rachel Cryer and Laurel Bowman two years before they got married when they were looking for a cake to celebrate the marriage of Cryer's mother to a man.

But when Cryer and her mother came to Sweetcakes by Melissa for a wedding cake tasting in 2013, Aaron Klein told them that they could not create a cake for a wedding with two brides because of their religious beliefs.

After Cryer and her mother left the store, the appeal explains that the mother returned to confront Aaron Klein about his religious beliefs on marriage. The mother admitted that she used to hold the same beliefs about marriage but that "truth had changed" and that she believed the Bible was silent on same-sex marriage.

"After she finished, Aaron expressed religious disagreement and quoted a Bible verse in support of his position," the court document reads. "As BOLI found, Aaron quoted a verse from the Book of Leviticus: 'You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination.' Rachel's mother ended the conversation, returned to her car, and told Rachel (inaccurately) that Aaron had called her 'an abomination.'"

Although the lesbian couple commissioned a wedding cake at another bakery a few days later, the couple filed a discrimination complaint with BOLI.

BOLI ruled that the Kleins violated the state's accommodations statute that bars discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. The agency also issued an order for the Kleins to "cease and desist" from communicating their beliefs that their faith requires them to refuse baking a cake for a same-sex wedding.

The Kleins appealed the BOLI order to the Oregon Court of Appeals in 2016. The court upheld the BOLI order but reversed the gag order. The Kleins also appealed to the Oregon Supreme Court but that appeal was denied in June.

"Freedom of speech has always included the freedom not to speak the government's message," said Kelly Shackelford, CEO of First Liberty Institute, a national legal group aiding the Kleins in the case. "This case can clarify whether speech is truly free if it is government mandated."

This summer, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of Colorado baker Jack Phillips of Masterpiece Cakeshop, who faced similar backlash from the state government over his decision not to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding.

In a 7-2 decision, the high court ruled that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission violated Phillips' Free Exercise rights under the First Amendment.

In a concurring opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote that "[s]tates cannot punish protected speech because some group finds it offensive, hurtful, stigmatic, unreasonable, or undignified."

However, observers have noted the ruling's scope was narrow as the court called out the commission's hostility toward Phillips' faith.

Phillips now again faces punishment from the state government over his refusal to bake a cake for a transgender-themed cake.

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