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News / Northwest

Owners of ‘Sweet Cakes’ file appeal

Appeal asks Oregon Supreme Court to overturn penalty for denying lesbian couple cake

By Maxine Bernstein, The Oregonian
Published: March 2, 2018, 9:06pm

The former owners of Sweet Cakes by Melissa are petitioning the Oregon Supreme Court to overturn a state Court of Appeals ruling that upheld a penalty against the business for denying a custom wedding cake to a lesbian couple.

First Liberty Institute, a national law firm that takes on religious issues, and C. Boyden Gray, who served as White House Counsel to President George H. W. Bush, are representing Aaron and Melissa Klein in their appeal.

“Forcing artists to design and create custom wedding cakes to celebrate marriage rituals that are incompatible with the artists’ sincerely held religious beliefs abridges the freedom of speech and association protected by the First Amendment,” the petition says.

The Oregon Court of Appeals in late December unanimously upheld the state’s award of $135,000 in emotional damages to Rachel and Laurel Bowman-Cryer in 2013, finding Sweet Cakes’ owners violated the state anti-discrimination law by denying service to the same-sex couple. The state appeals court affirmed the finding by Oregon’s Bureau of Labor and Industries.

The Kleins’ lawyers argue in their petition that the state’s high court should review the case to “determine whether entrepreneurs in Oregon can exercise their freedoms of speech, religious exercise and conscience; and whether due process will protect them against bias and prejudgment by ideologically motivated adjudicators.”

They contend that the Kleins had to compromise their religious faith and conscience. The Kleins closed their Gresham business because of the financial penalty and the fact they’ve been targeted with hate mail, harassment and threats since the matter began, according to their lawyers.

“In its ruling, the Oregon Court of Appeals undermined America’s promise of protection even for those forms of expression which may be unpopular,” said Stephanie Taub, senior counsel for First Liberty, in a prepared statement.

Attorney Nancy Marcus, of the national law firm Lambda Legal that represented Rachel and Laurel Bowman-Cryer before the state Court of Appeals, said the Kleins are attempting to carve out an exemption for their business from the state’s discrimination law. They’re purporting to raise religious freedom claims to exempt themselves from civil rights law, Marcus argued.

“The First Amendment is not a license to discriminate,” Marcus said. “We’re talking about baking a cake and selling it to somebody. It’s about providing a service on an equal basis.”

The Bureau of Labor and Industries remain committed “to strong and fair enforcement of Oregon’s Equality Act so that Oregon remains open to all,” bureau spokesman Charlie Burr said.

“Within Oregon’s public accommodations law is the basic principle of human decency that every person, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, has the freedom to fully participate in society,” Burr said.