It's official: the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries has found that Aaron and Melissa Klein, the Christian bakers who gained national attention after they refused to make a wedding cake for a lesbian couple in 2013, were guilty of discrimination — and could be forced to pay up to $150,000 in damages.
"A Gresham bakery unlawfully discriminated against a same-sex couple by denying them full and equal access to a place of public accommodations," read a statement released by the agency on Monday.
The government has found the Kleins — owners of Sweet Cakes by Melissa — guilty of "unlawful discrimination under the Oregon Equality Act [of 2007]," with an impending March hearing set to address the damages that the Christian couple will be required to pay to Rachel Cryer and Laurel Bowman, the lesbian couple who filed a civil rights complaint after the Kleins declined to make them a wedding cake in January 2013.
Sweet Cakes By Melissa is a private business and is not exempt from anti-discrimination laws as other religious institutions are; the couple has said in the past that they fear the damages could bankrupt them.
Image via Sweet Cakes by Melissa/Facebook
"Under Oregon law, Oregonians may not be denied service based on sexual orientation or gender identity," explained the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries statement. "The law provides an exemption for religious organizations and schools, but does not allow private businesses to discriminate based on sexual orientation, just as they cannot legally deny service based on race, sex, age, disability or religion."
Aaron and Melissa Klein were also investigated for unlawful communication of "future intention to discriminate based on sexual orientation" due to past media interviews during which they discussed the situation and their faith-based opposition to homosexuality, though they will not be punished for speaking out on the issue.
Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries spokesman Charlie Burr said that the couple could end up paying Cryer and Bowman up to $150,000, — $75,000 each — though the actual amount will be decided on March 10, according to USA Today.
TheBlaze has interviewed Melissa Klein about her battle numerous times in the past, with the baker explaining that she and her husband ended up losing their shop in the midst of debate over refusing service to Cryer and Bowman; they now operate out of their home.
Despite the ramifications, the Kleins have not backed down. They appeared last year on a panel at the Values Voter Summit, a conservative religious and political gathering, where they defended their right to decline service based on their religious objections and said that they fully operated within the bounds of the U.S. Constitution.
“To be told they’re going to force me to convey a message other than what I want to convey — it flies in the face of the Constitution,” said Aaron Klein, according to the Oregonian. ”It’s a violation of my conscience. It’s a violation of my religious freedom. It’s horrible to see your own government doing this to you.”
And while many gay advocates have railed against the Kleins, Matt Stolhandske, a board member of Evangelicals for Marriage Equality, a coalition of Christians who support same-sex marriage, launched an online campaign last year to raise money for the Klein family, despite his opposition to their views.
“As a gay man, I should hate Melissa and Aaron Klein,” Stolhandske wrote in a Washington Post op-ed. “I’m also an evangelical Christian. I can’t understand why Klein or any other Christians twist the words of Jesus Christ to justify this behavior. To me, it’s a deeply harmful and embarrassing bastardization of our faith.”
But he went on to write that, as a Christian, he believes that he’s called to love even those with whom he disagrees, so he’s raising the funds so that the Kleins and their five children won’t suffer under the weight of the potentially massive fine. So far, that quest has raised under $5,000.