Anti-Gay Bakery in Ore. Forced to Close
Sweet Cakes by Melissa, the Gresham, Oregon-based bakery that turned away a lesbian couple’s business on religious grounds earlier this year, is now closed.
"This will be our last weekend at the shop we are moving our business to an in home bakery," reads the Aug. 30 entry on the Sweet Cakes Facebook page. "I will post our new number soon. Email will stay the same."
On January 17, Rachel Cryer, 30, said she had gone to the bakery in Gresham, Ore. (16 miles west of Portland, Ore.) for a scheduled appointment to order a wedding cake, where she met with the co-owner, Aaron Klein. When she informed him that the names on the cake would be hers and that of her fiancée, Laurel Bowman, Cryer was refused service. Klein informed her that the bakery does not provide services to same-sex couples, allegedly adding that same sex couples are "an abomination unto the Lord."
Cryer soon filed a complaint with the civil rights division of the Oregon’s Bureau of Labor and Industries under the provision of the Oregon Equality Act of 2007, which protects the rights of LGBTQ people with regards to employment, housing and public accommodations. An investigation soon followed, as did dueling protests and support rallies.
"We don’t have anything against lesbians or homosexuals," Melissa Klein said in August, and echoed her husband’s position. "It has to do with our morals and beliefs. It’s so frustrating because we went through all of this in January, when it all came out."
Aaron Klein later modified his views, saying he would bake cakes for gay people, but not for same-sex weddings (Cryer had initially went to the Kleins as a repeat customer, but had not previously requested a same-sex wedding cake). On the Sweet Cakes by Melissa website, the Kleins specifically spell out their views that marriage is between a man and a woman.
Morality Comes In Degrees?
In a now-famous experiment, reporters from the local Willamette Week newspaper contacted the bakery with requests for cakes celebrating divorce, human stem cell research, children born out of wedlock, and a pagan solstice service, the latter including the stipulation a pentagram be the primary cake decoration. All requests were accepted, and price quotes were listed in the replies.
Aaron Klein spoke about the case in February with NBC: "I think [the state labor commissioner] is going to have decide what’s more important: The Oregon State Constitution, or the statute that was passed in 2007," he said at the time. "They dropped the ball by not putting in any exemption for religious beliefs."
The Oregon Equality Act of 2007 includes such exemptions, but only for schools and religious bodies. Private businesses have no such protection, and must act in accordance with the equality statute, whatever the faith of the owners or employees.
As news of the complaint and investigation circulated, Cryer and Bowman, who declined an interview, soon found themselves with a landslide of support: Celebrity pastry chef and "Ace of Cakes" Duff Goldman offered to make the couple a wedding cake for free, another company offered free DJ services, and Equality Southwest Washington’s Wedding Expo offered to marry the couple free of charge.
After an initial sales spike from supporters, business soon waned and several outlets reported that people did not even want to park their cars near Sweet Cakes by Melissa, then located in a small mini-mall, for fear of association. Portland, Oregon’s affiliated station KOIN reports that in the now closed space is posted the following note on the door:
"This fight is not over. We will continue to stand strong. Your Religious Freedom is becoming not Free anymore. This is ridiculous that we can not [sic] practice our faith. The LORD is good and we will continue to serve Him with all our heart."
By moving their business into their private home, the Kleins still face state investigators on the grounds they provided, and continue to provide, a public service. If found guilty, Sweet Cakes by Melissa faces a fine of up to $50,000. The BOLI investigation is ongoing.
Pie in the Face
Sweet Cakes by Melissa and the Klein are not the only business flouting the law and refusing service to same-sex couples based on religion.
In June, a gay couple in Denver was also refused service by a wedding bakery. The Colorado Attorney General’s office filed a formal complaint after the ACLU initiated the process last year on behalf of David Mullins and Charlie Craig, who were married in Massachusetts but wanted a ceremony in their native Colorado. The case is scheduled for a hearing this month before Colorado’s Civil Rights Commission.
And it not just same-sex couples experiencing discrimination: in 2010, an Indianapolis bakery refused to bake rainbow-colored confections for a university LGBTQ group.
As reported by the Associated Press last October, Melisa Erwin and Jennie McCarthy, of Albany, NY, filed a complaint on Oct. 11 with the state Division of Human Rights after the Liberty Ridge Farm said it would not host their wedding set for this year. McCarthy said when the owners, Robert and Cynthia Gifford, found out they were a same-sex couple, the women were told there "was a problem." New York’s same-sex marriage law went into effect the previous June, and one prominent gay marriage opponent says the case could test the breadth of the law’s religious freedom language.
Lambda Legal senior counsel Susan Sommer said it is well established that a business that serves the public is in violation of New York’s human rights law if it discriminates on the basis of sexual orientation. "If it opens its venue for weddings by the general public, it can’t then shut its doors on a same-sex couple," Sommer said.