In February, Aaron and Melissa Klein, owners of Sweet Cakes by Melissa, an Oregon-based bakery, found themselves at the center of a media firestorm after refusing to make a wedding cake for a lesbian couple's ceremony. Nearly four months later, the small business continues to receive threatening and harassing phone calls and e-mails, as they grapple with the ongoing fall-out from their controversial decision. This week, they spoke with TheBlaze about the ongoing drama.
It was Jan. 17 when a mother and her daughter showed up at the shop and chatted with Aaron about purchasing a cake; their meeting was short-lived, though. Upon learning that the wedding was for two women, the baker purportedly politely declined service to the women, citing his Christian faith. Aaron apologized, but stayed true to his values.
As we previously reported, the mother and daughter became disgusted by the refusal and walked out. Ten minutes later, the baker told TheBlaze that the frustrated mom came back into Sweet Cakes by Melissa and challenged Aaron's decision not to serve the couple. Again, he maintained his stance and cited the Bible; the mother allegedly disagreed again and stormed out -- and a discrimination complaint was later filed against the shop.
"February 1st or 2nd, I got a letter from the Oregon DOJ, saying I was under investigation for a possible discrimination complaint," he said, noting that the grievance has still, months late, not materialized, as it was apparently improperly filed (it is unclear whether an official investigation will continue or whether a new inquiry will be launched).
Photo Credit: Sweet Cakes By Melissa
When asked why he refused to provide a cake to the couple, Aaron was candid, saying that he and Melissa don't provide baked goods for same-sex weddings.
"Obviously, with my Christian values, I believe that marriage is between a man and a woman," he said. "I take it to be a religious event. ... God ordained it."
HOW THEIR DECISION HAS IMPACTED BUSINESS
While Aaron and Melissa told TheBlaze that the community initially rallied around them -- a collective action that helped spark additional business -- that support has since waned. In place of the extra business, the Kleins regularly receive (especially in light of renewed media coverage) virulent e-mails and phone calls.
From claims that Aaron should be shot to one apparent threat that he be raped, the hate and angst being thrown the Klein family's way is certainly serious in nature. Some have even wished for the couple's five children to be stricken with illness. Aaron and Melissa shared a number of the e-mails with TheBlaze.
"You stupid bible thumping, hypocritical b**ch. I hope your kids get really, really, sick and you go out of business," reads one e-mail.
"Here's hoping you go out of business, you bigot. Enjoy hell," reads another.
But it's not just rhetoric that the husband and wife have encountered as a result of their refusal to provide the cake. They claim that their wedding vendors have been "badgered and harassed" until they refuse to do business with Sweet Cakes by Melissa.
As a result, the business' wedding cake orders this summer are down dramatically from the past. Plus, some individuals have canceled their previously-planned cakes in the wake of the controversy.
"My attorney likens this -- he calls it economic terrorism," Aaron said. "These people, they have literally tried to cut any business ties off through harassment."
Credit: Getty Images
The impact has even been seen among customers who continue coming to the shop. Some of them, despite still ordering from Sweet Cakes by Melissa, are hesitant to let others know where the delicious baked goods are coming from.
"Another thing lately that we've been noticing happening -- we'll have the people who support us," said Melissa. "They've come in and ordered stuff, but they don't want us to put our sticker on the box. They don't want people to know they got their stuff with us."
She went on to say that the situation has been difficult, stressful and perplexing, especially considering that the business may end up shuttering due, in part, to the economic impact that the cake fiasco has had. Melissa said that the family has been working hard to keep negative emotions at bay and she called the challenge a "trial," but said that, "God has really been helping us through this."
THEIR MESSAGE FOR GAYS AND LESBIANS
Contrary to the image that has been advanced in media, Aaron and Melisa told TheBlaze that they love everyone and are not out to discriminate or target a specific group of people. Their decision, they argue, was merely one based on their own theological views and their penchant for providing services that coincide with these standards.
Melissa said that she would want gays and lesbians to know that she "loves all people" and that she would do anything for an individual in need.
"I would do anything for a homosexual. I would give the shirt off my back," she said. "I've had gay friends, I've had gay people in my life."
The issue of the cake, she maintains, was one that had to do with her own convictions. And she said that she would have no problem respecting the beliefs of others, particularly those with whom she disagrees, so she seemed perplexed as to why her own views, in this regard, aren't being given the same credence.
"I'm a Christian. I wish that everyone could be saved -- everyone could be a believer. We have a want for everyone to know Christ," Aaron added. "I did what I did because I would not want to support somebody in something that would be a bad decision."
THE FAMILY DECRIES THE MOST RECENT MEDIA SCANDAL
An article published this week in the Willamette Week, a local paper in Oregon, has reignited the gay cake controversy for the Klein family. Since it is illegal to refuse service based on sexual orientation in Oregon, the outlet seemingly attempted to trap Sweet Cakes by Melissa in a lie by pretending to order cakes for events that would violate Christian doctrine.
After calling the Klein's business and one other bakery that is also under fire for refusing to provide a cake for a gay wedding, Willamette Week claims that Aaron and Melissa are guilty of hypocrisy. Here's a portion of the article:
We wondered what other requests these cakemakers would decline to honor. So last week five WW reporters called these two bakeries anonymously to get price quotes for other occasions frowned upon by some Christians. Surprisingly, the people who answered the phone at each bakery were quite willing to provide baked goods for celebrations of divorces, unmarried parents, stem-cell research, non-kosher barbecues and pagan solstice parties.
We later contacted both bakeries to ask about these inconsistencies. Regentin declined to comment beyond asking whether she had been taped (she had not).
Sweet Cakes owners Melissa and Aaron Klein were upset that we “would even try to entrap a business” and contacted conservative talk-show host Lars Larson.
But the Kleins claim that this simply isn't the case and that they would not provide cakes for divorces or other related events that would contradict Christian teaching (plus, the stem cell mention is odd, because Christians don't oppose stem cell research; instead, many oppose embryonic stem cell research -- a more specific and controversial form).
When TheBlaze first reached Melissa by phone on Thursday, she was frustrated by the new-found media coverage, claiming that it was rooted in lies and that she was dumbfounded that media outlets could publish things that were overtly untrue.
"I feel like all these media people -- they have not gotten our story -- our actual story. And what we're really about and why we said no," she said. "Everyone is looking at us like we're these hateful monsters that don't want to serve gay people."
In a separate interview on Friday, she made it clear that her shop would not provide cakes for divorces or other related events and that she wouldn't even be willing to write profanity on a cake.
"For me, personally ... It's my morals, it's my beliefs it's my convictions," she added.
As for Aaron's take on the matter, he said that neither he nor Melissa answered the calls that were reportedly taken from Willamette Week reporters. And he believes that there may be more strategic reasons behind the publication of the article.
"As far as this whole issue ... the only thing I can figure, the idea behind running an article in that way is not only to rally these activists ... but also to try to isolate us from the people who support us," Aaron said. "It seems like it's definitely trying to push an agenda and put us out of business."
This prospect, of course, is entirely possible, as the bakery is struggling following the cake debacle.
It's unclear what will happen next, as the lesbian couple is reportedly still considering its legal options. Regardless of what the government decides, though, Aaron says that he and his wife will stick by their convictions and that their religious freedom is protected under both Oregon and federal constitutions.
"I can say I don't want to take part in something that violates my religious beliefs. If they want to shut me down because of it, then they could shut me down," he told TheBlaze.
TheBlaze will continue to follow this story as new developments unfold.