Breaking Down the Sweet Cakes Order: An Examination of the Case Against Anti-LGBT Bakers in Oregon

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By Bradley Donalson

In January 2013, an Oregon bakery called Sweet Cakes by Melissa, run by husband-and-wife duo Aaron and Melissa Klein, refused to bake a cake for Rachel Cryer and Laurel Bowman for their wedding. The lesbian couple complained to the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI) that they had been discriminated against because of their sexuality. This set off a firestorm in the conservative media that the Kleins were being persecuted for their faith or that this was an attack on Christianity.

On July 2, the ruling came down against the Kleins ordering them to pay $135,000 to the couple they discriminated against, and this set off another round of complaints on social networking and in the media. Go watch Raven Symone’s epic side-eye on The View if you don’t believe me. The problem is that there are so many competing stories and viewpoints flying around that it’s hard to tell what’s actually true and what’s just an Internet rumor. After reading the order from BOLI, I’ve decided that some things need to be clarified.

The biggie: why didn’t the couple just go to another bakery for their cake? This is a question I’ve heard from conservative pundits and the LGBT community alike. And the answer is really quite simple: they did. After they got called an abomination and were turned away by Aaron Klein, they eventually made their way down the street to another bakery where they got their dream wedding cake made for $250. It’s interesting to note that in the facts of the case, Aaron Klein is on record saying he would have charged $600 for the same cake. But this case isn’t about the cake. This is about the fact that Aaron Kline discriminated against the Bowman-Cryers.

In Oregon, it is illegal to discriminate against someone on the basis of their sexual orientation (ORS 659A.403), and when Aaron Klein did that, he broke the law. He may have all kinds of reasons for breaking the law, but doesn’t everybody? Since when has the reason you were speeding ever stopped you from getting a ticket? People claim that the Bowman-Cryers should have just let it go, but it could just as easily be argued that they had a moral obligation to report unlawful behavior.

After they were informed of the complaint, Aaron and Melissa Klein began to put about that they were being persecuted. They went on talk shows and radio programs and kept their story in the media for two years. Their actions caused the Bowman-Cryers to experience severe emotional stress. As foster parents, the case being played out in the media put their family in jeopardy. The Kleins keeping the story in the media also caused Laurel Bowman to be barred from seeing her family. While I acknowledge that the Kleins are within their rights to complain, as we all are, the fact remains that in defending their illegal activity, they caused the Bowman-Cryers to experience mental and emotional stress. Throughout all of this, the only time the Bowman-Cryers spoke with the media was in a press release that asked for privacy, notified the media that they had contracted another bakery, received another cake from Charm City Cakes baker Duff Goldman (Ace of Cakes), and directed any donations to their local Pride organization, Pride Northwest.

Speaking of money, there have been a plethora of people claiming that $135,000 is too hefty a fine to lay on the bakers. While this may seem like a lot of money, it was calculated in the same way as a fine against a company discriminating based on race. This wasn’t an arbitrary number picked out of a hat, but the result of determining two years’ worth of emotional suffering because of the Kleins’ actions. There’s a rumor spreading that this amount was because Aaron Klein “doxed” (released personal information about the Bowman-Cryers such as their address and phone number—which he did), but the order clearly states, “In this case, the [Administrative Law Judge] proposed that $75,000 and $60,000 are appropriate awards to compensate Complainants [Rachel Cryer and Laurel Bowman], respectively, for the emotional suffering they experienced from Respondents’ [Aaron and Melissa Klein’s] denial of service” (page 41, lines 8–10).

This amount may seem excessive, but when you take into account the amount of money that has been raised for the Kleins, it actually seems kind of small. A GoFundMe account was made for the couple, thanks to their playing the victim in the media. GoFundMe took down the fund, but not before it had raised $109,000 for the couple, which they get to keep. After that, another crowdfunding site dedicated to raising funds for missionaries, churches, and nonprofits set up a fund for the Kleins. As of this writing, that fund has raised approximately $364,500. Altogether, this means that the couple will be receiving over three-and-a-half times the amount that they are being fined. It hardly seems like they are going to go bankrupt.

The now-closed storefront of Sweet Cakes by Melissa bakery in Gresham, Oregon. Photo: KGW
The now-closed storefront of Sweet Cakes by Melissa bakery in Gresham, Oregon. Photo: KGW

And finally, the infamous “gag-order” that was placed on the Kleins. Part of the decision against the bakers included an order that they “cease and desist from publishing, circulating, issuing or displaying, or causing to be published, circulated, issued or displayed, any communication, notice, advertisement or sign of any kind to the effect that any of the accommodations, advantages, facilities, services or privileges of a place of public accommodation will be refused, withheld from or denied to, or that any discrimination will be made against, any person on account of sexual orientation” (page 43, lines 1–6). This may seem like a convoluted and complicated order, but it really boils down to a very simple concept: you can’t post a sign that you are going to break the law. Also, it is basically an order saying that they have to obey the law, since this is basically the text of ORS 659A.409. An appropriate analogy would be saying that a business couldn’t advertise, saying “we don’t serve blacks” or “we refuse to serve Jews.” In the state where they operate, saying that they won’t serve gay couples is the same thing.

To make a long story short (too late, I know), Aaron and Melissa Klein broke the law. They had what they thought to be a good reason, but that doesn’t change the fact that they broke the law. They are being fined for breaking the law and ordered not to break the law again. This issue has nothing to do with their religion, except that they feel it allows them to (say it with me now) break the law.

Bradley Donalson is a frequent contributor to OutSmart magazine.


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Bradley Donalson

Bradley Donalson is a frequent contributor to OutSmart magazine.

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