By JOHN FORTMEYER
GRESHAM — A Christian husband and wife who run a bakery business here fully expected an Oregon state agency would determine they had unlawfully discriminated against a same-sex couple.
Last month, the state fulfilled those expectations.
On January 17, the state Bureau of Labor and Industries announced that it had found substantial evidence that Sweet Cakes by Melissa bakery had violated the civil rights of a same-sex couple when it refused to make a cake for their wedding.
The state will now conduct a conciliation effort between the bakery’s owners — Aaron and Melissa Klein of Gresham — and the same-sex couple — Rachel Cryer and Laurel Bowman of Portland — to see if a settlement can be reached. If not, the labor bureau may pursue charges before an administrative law judge. The state could ultimately issue cease and desist orders, awarding both economic and non-economic damages and assessing civil penalties.
In a message on the business’s Facebook page, Melissa Klein acknowledged the state agency’s finding and thanked the bakery’s supporters for their ongoing prayers.
“I feel such a peace with all of this that is going on,” she wrote. “Even though there are days that are hard and times of struggle, we still feel the Lord is in this. It is His fight and our situation is in His hands.”
Herb Grey, the Beaverton attorney for the Kleins, said the Kleins will participate in the conciliation process, but are not varying from their long-held position that baking a cake for a same-sex wedding would violate their Christian beliefs. The Kleins maintain that they weren’t discriminating against the women, who were customers in the past, but were practicing their Constitutional right to religious freedom.
Paul Thompson, a Portland attorney representing the women, told The Oregonian that they were pleased by the ruling but still troubled over having experienced what they consider discrimination.
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.
The investigation concluded that the bakery is not a religious institution under law and that its policy of refusing to make same-sex wedding cakes represents unlawful discrimination based on sexual orientation.
It is with such cases in mind that the Oregon Family Council recently announced it would try to get an initiative placed on the state ballot this November to protect the religious conscience freedoms of business owners.
The women first publicly raised their concerns more than a year ago, and the case has since received both regional and national media attention. Although the Kleins initially 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.
The Kleins have five children. He has taken another full-time job to pay the family bills.