Pair decline to make cake for same-sex wedding
By JOHN FORTMEYER
GRESHAM —Thanks to huge attention from not only regional but national media, the basic facts of the story are already known from coast to coast: Citing their religious beliefs, a Christian couple who own a small bakery here declined to do a wedding cake for a same-sex couple, and the owners are now waiting to find out if the state government will fine them for their decision.
Aaron Klein, who with wife Melissa owns Sweet Cakes by Melissa at 44 N.Division St., says he, she and their five kids, ranging in age from 14 years to 9 months (twins) are “doing OK” and prayerfully moving through the resulting media firestorm, two demonstrations so far by opponents outside their store and harsh criticism from liberal groups.
“With my personality type, it doesn’t get to me that much,” he said.
Klein explained that even though the shop has gay customers among its clientele and always treats them respectfully, he politely declined Jan. 17 to make a cake for Laurel Bowman and Rachel Cryer. He cited the Kleins’ biblical belief that marriage can only be between a man and a woman.
Bowman filed a discrimination complaint against the bakery. State law prohibits businesses from refusing to serve customers based on their race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation. On the advice of their attorney, Bowman and Cryer are not commenting to the media.
But the Kleins maintain the U.S. Constitution protects them from being forced to participate in something that violates their conscience and religious beliefs.
While taking all the attention in stride, Klein acknowledges the whole situation hasn’t increased his admiration for the U.S. media’s perspective on such hot-button social issues.
“You really see how skewed the opinions are of the general media,” he said from behind the counter as a steady stream of customers came in on a recent morning, almost each one telling him of their support.
One was Sarah Roberts from Redmond, who said she went 30 minutes out of her way on a trip to the Willamette Valley to stop by the Kleins’ shop.
“They should be able to serve who they want to, based on their convictions,” she said. “There’s a lot of people in Redmond, Oregon, who are supporting them.”
Another was Norma Dobbs, who said her church, Good Shepherd Community in Boring, is “pretty solidly behind” the Kleins.
“He did the right thing,” she said. “It’s his option. We’re telling everybody to help support them.”
As with the criticism, the support shown toward the Kleins in the wake of the initial media blast has been huge. On Saturday, Feb. 2, the shop had its most profitable day in five years. For most of the day, a line of customers stretched out the door, even while protesters stood on a nearby corner. People came from throughout the Northwest to show their agreement with the Kleins through their purchases of baked goods.
It hasn’t slowed down much since then. Klein himself is working 15-hour days. “We’re just trying to keep up with demand,” he told a phone customer. On the other hand, Klein said the couple have received e-mails, phone calls and Facebook messages from throughout the nation from people who see their decision as discriminatory, hateful, or both.
“Online, we’ve been smeared like you wouldn’t believe,” he said.
Longtime members of Lynchwood Church of God in Portland, the Kleins say the support coming their way includes their pastor and church family. But even within that congregation there are a few people who have expressed to Klein disagreement with their decision.
Klein didn’t seek to become a public figure in the gay rights debate, but he said he isn’t hesitant to take a stand for traditional, biblical values and he would like to see churches everywhere do the same.
“The Christian church for the last 25 years has been lukewarm,” he said. “It has been more concerned about fillings its pews than about speaking the truth.”
Although gay marriage is now legal is Washington because of voter approval, neither Oregon nor federal law recognize same-sex “marriage,” but sponsors of an effort to get a gay marriage proposal on Oregon’s 2014 fall ballot on Feb. 19 turned in 2,000 sponsorship signatures — twice the number needed to move into the ballot title process.\
In the meantime, the U.S. Supreme Court later this year will hear a challenge to the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which restricts marriage to one man and one woman. If the justices strike down the law, they could face a multitude of cases involving business owners like the Kleins.
In New Mexico, a photographer is facing thousands of dollars in fines for refusing to photograph a same-sex ceremony and has taken her case to the state Supreme Court. In New Jersey, a retreat center is facing a discrimination lawsuit for refusing to host a same-sex civil union ceremony.
Klein said he has been in contact with a Lakewood, Colo., bakery that also came under fire — and also saw a business boom from supporters — for refusing to do a wedding cake for a gay couple.
“It’s popping up all over the country,” said Klein. “They’re targeting businesses.”
The Oregon Attorney General’s civil enforcement officers will investigate the complaint filed by the brides-to-be. The Kleins were given a two-week period in which to respond to the state inquiry.
How far are the Kleins willing to defend their beliefs?
“It ends at the (U.S.) Supreme Court in my book,” he said. “I know right is right, and I will fight for what’s right until I can’t fight any longer.”
In the meantime, the lesbian couple acknowledged have accepted a free cake offer from Food Network star chef Duff Goldman. They had already decided to buy a wedding cake from a southeast Portland bakery when Goldman offered to bake and deliver a cake to them from Los Angeles for their wedding this summer.