By JOHN FORTMEYER
PORTLAND — Melissa and Aaron Klein — Christian bakery owners from Gresham who a state agency determined had discriminated against a same-sex couple — are now facing formal charges on the matter.
In response, the Kleins, through their legal counsel:
•counter that no discrimination took place;
•contend that the Kleins’ religious and free speech rights are being overtly violated by the state;
•argue that Brad Avakian, commissioner of the state Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI), which is making the charges, has repeatedly shown his personal bias against the Kleins in the case and should be disqualified from any jurisdiction in the matter;
•ask that the case be heard in a local circuit court, rather than in a BOLI hearing currently scheduled to begin Oct. 6 in Portland before BOLI Administrative Law Judge Alan McCul-lough.
The agency charges that the Kleins, operators of Sweet Cakes by Melissa bakery, in January 2013 discriminated against Rachel Cryer and Laurel Bowman-Cryer because of their sexual orientation. Specifically, the Kleins refused to bake a cake for the two women’s same-sex wedding ceremony.
The state further claims that the Kleins, in violation of state law, gave public notice that their business services could be denied to people based on their sexual orientation.
The women are asking for at least $75,000 in damages each for emotional, mental and physical suffering, as well as possible out-of-pocket expenses.
In response, the Kleins ask for dismissal of all charges and that they receive $200,000 in damages from each of the two complainants as well as legal fees.
Last January, BOLI announced that it had found substantial evidence that the Kleins had violated the civil rights of the same-sex couple in refusing to make the cake.
The Kleins, who received national attention this past year because of the controversy, have maintained that they weren’t discriminating against the women, who were customers in the past, but were practicing their Constitutional right to religious freedom.
State law says businesses may not deny services based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The law provides an exemption for religious organizations and schools, but does not allow private business owners to discriminate based on sexual orientation, just as they cannot legally deny service based on race, sex, age, disability or religion.
BOLI determined that the bakery is not a religious institution under the law and that its policy of refusing to make same-sex wedding cakes represents unlawful discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Although the Kleins early last year saw a surge in business from their supporters, it wasn’t enough to sustain their storefront operation near downtown Gresham and the bakery was moved into their home.
The Kleins also have received death threats, and pro-homosexual forces threatened to boycott any florist, wedding planners or other vendors that did business with the bakery.
Herbert Grey of Beaverton, an attorney for the Kleins, submitted extensive documentation of e-mails, Facebook postings and public statements by Avakian on the Kleins’ case, as well as on gay-rights issues in general, that Grey claims show Avakian has shown his bias in the matter both in the labor commissioner’s post and as a candidate last year for re-election.
Grey also notes that at the time of the alleged discrimination, same-sex marriage was still illegal in Oregon.
“The state has a conflict when it simultaneously prohibited sexual orientation discrimination by statute, while construtionally declining to recognize same-sex marriage,” he wrote.