Portland brides allege Greshams Sweet Cakes by Melissa discriminated against them

by: OUTLOOK FILE PHOTO - Supporters of same-sex marriage demonstrated near Sweet Cakes by Melissa on Saturday, Feb. 8.

The same-sex couple who were refused a wedding cake by a Gresham bakery in January, and allegedly called “abominations to the lord,” by one of the owners, has filed a complaint with the state.

Filed on Thursday, Aug. 8, the complaint alleges Sweet Cakes by Melissa discriminated against a Portland couple based on their sexual orientation.

Charlie Burr, communications director for Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian, said the civil rights division of Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries will conduct an investigation to determine whether Sweet Cakes by Melissa unlawfully discriminated against the couple.

Under the Oregon Equality Act of 2007, the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people are protected in employment, housing and public accommodations.

Should the state find substantial evidence of unlawful discrimination, the parties will try to reach a settlement or resolve the complaint through prosecution before an administrative judge.

On Jan. 17, 2013, Rachel N. Cryer, 30, met at Sweet Cakes by Melissa with owner Aaron Klein, asking the bakery to make a cake for her wedding.

According to the complaint, when Cryer told Klein there were two brides —herself and Laurel Bowman — he said the bakery did not provide services for same-sex weddings.

Klein and his wife, Melissa said that while they serve LGBT-identified people, they do not offer wedding cakes for same-sex couples because that violates their Christian belief that marriage is between a man and a woman.

In response to the couple’s initial complaint filed with the state in January, the Kleins also noted that the Oregon Constitution does not recognize same-sex marriage.

“Put simply, they elected not to participate in an event that is not even officially recognized under Oregon law when doing so would violate their constitutionally-protected conscience and religious beliefs,” wrote the bakery’s attorney, Herbert Grey.

On Tuesday, the bakery owners received a copy of the complaint, which they have expected since the initial complaint.

“Really, this has to do with myself and my husband and the way we’re living out our life and faith and relationship with the lord,” Melissa Klein said. “This has been a really frustrating and hard time.”

In an initial complaint filed by Bowman, the couple alleged Aaron Klein had called them “abominations to the lord.” The Kleins in their response to the complaint said that comment was “taken completely out of context.”

Melissa Klein said since the January incident, their wedding cake sales have suffered. Some vendors no longer recommend her, but that is their right, she said.

Jim Oleske, a Lewis & Clark College law professor who actively researches and writes on the refusal of some commercial businesses to serve same-sex couples, said that when it comes to religious exemptions to laws, there’s a lot of confusion around the country, particularly surrounding the Affordable Care Act.

But in Oregon, Oleske sees the religious liberty argument as an uphill battle for the Kleins. The Oregon Supreme Court has said the Oregon Constitution does not provide businesses with a right to religious exemptions from neutral and generally applicable laws such as the 2007 Oregon Equality Act, he said.

The Klein’s first response to the initial complaint stated that they don’t think they violated the state’s anti-discrimination law because they don’t refuse service in general to gay and lesbian customers, and only refuse to provide services for weddings the Oregon Constitution does not recognize.

Oleske noted that in the next five to 10 years, these religious arguments could be moot, if the Freedom to Marry and Religious Protection Initiative qualifies for the November 2014 ballot in Oregon and is passed.

“Eventually, just as bans on interracial marriage came to be seen as an unlawful form of racial discrimination, I believe bans on same-sex marriage will come to be seen as unlawful discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation,” Oleske said. “But until Oregon’s ban on same-sex marriage is either repealed by the voters or struck down by the courts, there may continue to be legal uncertainties for same-sex couples who are seeking equal services for their weddings.”

Since 2009, the state has received 10 complaints regarding allegations of discrimination in public places based on sexual or gender identity.

In total, Burr said about 2,200 discrimination complaints are filed with the state each year, the majority of which are related to employment. The number of civil rights inquiries the state has fielded has risen from 29,440 in 2008 to 38,666 in 2012.

Of the nine other complaints made regarding allegations of discrimination in public places because of sexual or gender identity, Burr said four were found unsubstantiated, three were negotiated as settlements, one was privately settled and the ninth, regarding Portland’s P Club, is pending.

Burr encouraged businesses who are struggling to understand the 2007 Oregon Equality Act to call the state’s technical line, 971-673-0825, for assistance.

“Our hope is that we can avoid potential complaints in the first place,” Burr said.

Equality Act

In 2007, the State of Oregon enacted the Oregon Equality Act (also known as SB2), a law that protects lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people from discrimination.

The Oregon Equality Act forbids discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender

identity or expression in eight areas:

• Employment

• Public accommodations

• Housing

• Financial matters

• Jury duty

• Foster parenting

• Public education

• Correctional facilities

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