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Right decision? Oregon bakers to pay $135K damages for refusing to make lesbians cake

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Pictured Oregon 'Gresham Bakery' owners, Melissa Klein and Aaron Klein.
Melissa Klein and Aaron Klein
Pictured Oregon ‘Gresham Bakery’ owners, Melissa Klein and Aaron Klein.

Oregon appeals court upholds previous verdict mandating Aaron and Melissa Klein to pay $135K in damages after refusing to bake a cake for a same sex couple.

Aaron and Melissa Klein owners of a since closed Oregon bakery were on Thursday mandated by an appellate court to pay out a lesbian couple $135,000 after previously declining to make a cake for their upcoming same sex wedding. 

The court’s decision upheld a previous lower court decision forcing ‘Sweet Cake to make good on the damages after refusing to make a cake for the couple upon finding out they were same sex, some five years ago.

During their appeal, the Kleins – argued that state Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian violated state and federal laws by forcing them to pay emotional-distress damages to same sex couple Rachel and Laurel Bowman-Cryer.

Lawyers for the Kleins reported oregonlive accused the state Bureau of Labor and Industries of violating their rights as artists to free speech, their rights to religious freedom and their rights as defendants to a due process.

But the Oregon Court of Appeals sided with the state Thursday, saying the Kleins failed to show the state targeted them for their religious beliefs. 

The judges also found public statements made by Avakian before deciding the case did not establish a lack of impartiality.

Rachel and Laurel Bowman-Cryer
Pictured, same sex couple, Rachel and Laurel Bowman-Cryer

Aaron and Melissa Klein: Was their right to religious freedom violated? 

In the ruling, Judge Chris Garrett wrote that Avakian’s order does not violate the Klein’s free speech rights because it simply ‘requires their compliance with a neutral law.’ Garrett also wrote that the Kleins ‘have made no showing that the state targeted them for enforcement because of their religious beliefs.’

‘Today’s ruling sends a strong signal that Oregon remains open to all,’ Avakian said after the 62-page opinion was released Thursday.

The decision comes weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in the high-profile case of a Colorado baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple.

That baker, Jack Phillips, claims his First Amendment claims of artistic freedom were being violated – a similar issue raised by the Kleins.

Phillips, like the Kleins, contends that creating and custom-decorating a cake is an act of artistic expression that deserves more free speech protections than the sales of other goods and services.

Equality of the law ensuring non discrimination in consumption as opposed to expression:

The Oregon court said the Kleins’ argument that their cakes entail an artistic expression is ‘entitled to be taken seriously,‘ but it’s not enough for the couple to assert their cakes are pieces of art – they must show others perceive their creations like a sculpture or painting.

‘Although we accept that the Kleins imbue each wedding cake with their own aesthetic choices, they have made no showing that other people will necessarily experience any wedding cake that the Kleins create predominantly as ‘expression’ rather than as food,’ the opinion says.

First Liberty Institute, the legal organization representing the Kleins, disagreed with the ruling.

‘The Oregon Court of Appeals decided that Aaron and Melissa Klein are not entitled to the Constitution’s promises of religious liberty and free speech,’ said Kelly Shackelford, the firm’s president. ‘In a diverse and pluralistic society, people of good will should be able to peacefully coexist with different beliefs.’

The state fined the bakers after determining they violated a 2007 Oregon law that protects the rights of gays, lesbians, bisexual and transgender people in employment, housing and public accommodations. The law provides an exemption for religious organizations but does not allow private businesses to discriminate based on sexual orientation.

Rachel and Laurel Bowman-Cryer praised the ruling in a statement released through their attorney: ‘It does not matter how you were born or who you love. All of us are equal under the law and should be treated equally. Oregon will not allow a ‘Straight Couples Only’ sign to be hung in bakeries or other stores.’