Oregon Court Must Uphold Anti-Discrimination Law Against Homophobic Bakery (Again)

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January 9, 2020
Rachel and Laurel Bowman-Cryer.

The Oregon Court of Appeals today once again heard oral argument in the case of the Portland-area bakery that denied service to a lesbian couple based on religious objections to serving same-sex couples. The court two years ago upheld a 2015 ruling by the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI) that the owners of Gresham-based Sweetcakes By Melissa violated the state’s nondiscrimination statutes when they refused to bake a wedding cake for a lesbian couple. The U.S. Supreme Court vacated that ruling in June 2019 and directed the Oregon court to reconsider its prior decision in light of the Supreme Court’s 2018 ruling in favor of a Colorado baker in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission.

“In 2017, the Oregon Court of Appeals issued a thorough and thoughtful decision explaining that our precious freedoms of religion and speech are not licenses for businesses to ostracize LGBT people. Oregon law guarantees equality, not being sent elsewhere as second-class pariahs,” said Jennifer C. Pizer, Senior Counsel and Director of Law and Policy at Lambda Legal.

“Nothing the court heard today changes the facts of this case. The Kleins denied service to Rachel and Laurel and caused them public humiliation and intense emotional distress, and BOLI applied the state statutes appropriately.”

“All we wanted was a cake, the same simple, delicious cake that Melissa Klein sold to us two years earlier when we bought the wedding cake for my mother’s wedding,” Rachel Bowman-Cryer said.

“Nothing had prepared me for the shock and humiliation of how Aaron Klein treated us – for his rejection of our business because of who we are, and then having our committed relationship characterized as an abomination."

“We both grew up in religiously conservative environments and this experience has affected us profoundly. It stripped us of our sense of safety here in Oregon, and left us fearful, anticipating the next time we will be refused service because of who we are. We both are still women of faith, and it cuts extra deeply when a business has refused to serve you and then condemns you based on the owner’s religious beliefs.”

Rachel added, “We had really hoped this was all behind us so we could put all of our focus on our daughters. But we also understand we need to stand up for what is right, as an example to our daughters. We hope the court will do the right thing, again, and make sure Oregon’s laws can protect people the way they’re intended to do.”

Laurel and Rachel Bowman-Cryer had been together 10 years and were adoptive parents to two special needs children when they decided to get married.

In planning for the wedding, Rachel went with her mother to a wedding cake tasting having been invited by Melissa Klein of Sweetcakes by Melissa in the Portland suburb of Gresham, which she co-owns with her husband, Aaron Klein. It was the same bakery business where, two years earlier, Rachel and Laurel had purchased a cake for Rachel’s mother’s wedding.

Rachel had scheduled the tasting with Melissa. However, when they arrived, they were met by Aaron, who, when they confirmed that the wedding was for a lesbian couple, said, “We don’t do same-sex weddings.”

He then called same-sex relationships an “abomination,” citing Bible verses.

BOLI determined that the Kleins had violated the Oregon Public Accommodations Law and, because their conduct caused serious emotional harm to Rachel and Laurel, assessed damages of $135,000 against the Kleins. The Kleins appealed, and the Oregon Court of Appeals upheld the Bureau of Labor and Industries’ determination in December 2017.

The Kleins, represented by the anti-LGBTQ legal organization First Liberty Institute of Plano, Texas, then petitioned the Oregon Supreme Court for review, and, after the Oregon Supreme Court denied review, sought review by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The case is Klein dba Sweetcakes by Melissa v. Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries. Read Lambda Legal’s recent friend-of-the-court brief, filed in the Oregon Court of Appeals on behalf of Rachel and Laurel Bowman-Cryer.

Lambda Legal included the Bowman-Cryers’ story in the friend-of-the-court brief we submitted in 2017 to the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of itself and 12 other organizations in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission

Lambda Legal Senior Counsel and Law & Policy Director Jennifer C. Pizer is representing Rachel and Laurel Bowman-Cryer with local co-counsel Paul Thompson of LTL PDX LLC in Portland, Oregon.