A bakery that turned away a lesbian couple looking to buy a cake for their wedding will have to pay them an award of possibly $135,000 for emotional damages, a hearings officer said Friday. The sum is recommended by an administrative law judge for the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI), but it could change before a final decision is made.
Sweet Cakes by Melissa refused to sell a wedding cake to Oregon couple Rachel Bowman-Cryer and Laurel Bowman-Cryer in 2013, saying it went against their religious beliefs to contribute to a same-sex wedding. The BOLI investigation found that the company’s refusal violated the state’s nondiscrimination ordinance. While the prosecutors were originally seeking $150,000 for the couple, the law judge recommended that Rachel should collect $75,000 and Laurel $60,000 for emotional damages. Rachel and her mother were turned away after setting up a cake tasting with the bakers, and Laurel was not present — a fact the defense tried to argue meant she did not have standing in the complaint.
Owners Melissa and Aaron Klein quickly became heroes to the anti-LGBT conservative Christian community, and are often held up as proof that LGBT rights infringe on religious liberty. They closed down their storefront after intense backlash and now operate their business out of their home.
After the judge’s proposed order was released, the couple posted a statement on Facebook, saying, “This amount will financially ruin us. Our government was put in place to protect the people not to punish people because of their faith.” A GoFundMe crowdfunding page in support of the bakery was deleted after raising $109,000 on Friday, as GoFundMe’s terms of service do not allow fundraising for people found in violation of the law.
The bakers have ten days to file objections to the order, according to their attorney. The Labor Commissioner will then decide if the amount should be raised, lowered, or remain at $135,000.
More localities and states are adopting nondiscrimination ordinances like Oregon’s, which protect people from being fired or refused services on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity. At the same time, “license to discriminate” bills and religious freedom protections are becoming popular with conservative lawmakers to shield businesses that wish to discriminate against LGBT people. Recent uproar against such laws in Indiana, Arkansas, Arizona, Oregon, and Georgia succeeded in defeating overt allowances for discrimination. But without nondiscrimination laws, which only 17 states have adopted, many more Americans will be turned away from private businesses, fired, and denied housing solely based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.