Aaron and Melissa Klein, owners of Sweet Cakes by Melissa, have finally paid the fine they owe for violating Oregon state law by refusing to sell a wedding cake to a same-sex couple. After refusing to pay for over six months — and refusing to even obtain a bond or irrevocable letter of credit — the Kleins turned over a check for $136,927.07, which includes interest on the $135,000 they owe.
This sum of money was likely easily available to the Kleins. The Oregonian estimates that online donation efforts have raised the couple at least $515,000, and money continues to come in. This estimate likely also doesn’t account for any donations sent directly to them in the mail. Still, conservatives attempted to spin the story as devastating the couple’s finances.
Fox News’ Todd Starnes, who is always eager to show how Christians are being victimized regardless of how accurate his reporting must be to do so, happily ignored the fact that the couple was violating the order for six months to tell his version of their sob story. Because the Kleins had refused to pay or set up any payment plan, the state seized their bank accounts earlier this month, taking nearly $7,000.
One of the accounts was labeled “God’s money,” which Melissa Klein explained was where they kept money for tithing. “Yes friends,” Starnes wrote, “the state of Oregon stole money meant for our lord.” Paying the full fine “was the price the Kleins had to pay for following the teachings of Jesus Christ.”
According to Tyler Smith, the couple’s lawyer, they had asked the state to hold off on collection attempts, but the request was denied. Back in September, the state warned that if the Kleins refused to set up a bond or irrevocable letter of credit, officials would have “no other option but to docket the judgment against them.” It is thus unsurprising that after the couple refused to comply for another three months, the state took action.
“I’ve never met Brad Avakian,” Starnes wrote, referring to the Oregon Labor Commissioner, “but he sounds like a pretty ruthless individual — a person who is using his office to bully and intimidate Christians. Be warned, friends. In Oregon, gay rights trump religious liberty.”
Meanwhile, the Heritage Foundation helped the Kleins look more like the victims by inviting them to read “mean tweets” about themselves for a video. The tweets basically just refer to them as bigots. Aaron claimed that the negative comments “are coming from a place of ignorance.” Melissa has had to cope with such backlash that now when she reads such responses, “I actually hurt for them and I feel that — I pray for them.”
One of the other claims conservatives have made is that the Kleins were subjected to a “gag order” as part of the case. The couple has repeatedly talked about the case and their desire not to “participate” in same-sex weddings in many public venues since then. In reality, the order was simply to not advertise that their business willfully discriminates, as that would still be in violation of the law. Starnes still believes this proves him right that marriage equality would require the silencing of all dissent.
Smith acknowledged in a statement that “Oregon law requires that as they appeal the Oregon government’s decision denying them their First Amendment rights, they must either pay the amount imposed by the Oregon government, or obtain a bond for the amount of the judgment. The least expensive option to stay in compliance with the law was to pay the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries funds that will be kept in a separate account until they prevail in their court appeal.”
In other words, the couple and their lawyers knew that by not paying they were in violation of the order.
The Kleins are pursuing an appeal in their case. The same-sex couple they discriminated against will not see any of the money until all appeals are exhausted, which could still be years from now.