Court upholds $135,000 fine for bakery owners who refused to make cake for gay couple

Aaron and Melissa Klein (File photo by KATU News)

The Court of Appeals announced its decision Thursday to uphold a $135,000 fine issued to bakery owners who refused to make a cake for a lesbian couple.

Melissa and Aaron Klein had refused to bake a cake for Rachel Bowman-Cryer and her wife, Laurel, back in February 2013.

They ended up closing the store several months later due to backlash, but continued the business from home with the help of online donations.

Melissa Klein ended her online business as well.

"We lost everything we loved and worked so hard to build," said Melissa Klein. "I loved my shop. It meant everything to me and losing it has been so hard for me and my family."

The state ruled Sweet Cakes had discriminated against the lesbian couple, and in July 2015, Oregon Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian ordered the Kleins pay $135,000 for emotional damages suffered.

The Kleins have already paid the $135,000 in damages, but that money was held in a government escrow pending the appeal court's decision.

The Oregon Equality Act of 2007 says businesses cannot discriminate or refuse service based on sexual orientation - just as they cannot turn away customers because of their race, sex, disability, age, or religion.

In a statement, Cryer and Bowman applauded the court ruling saying, "All of us are equal under the law and should be treated equally. Oregon will not allow a 'Straight Couples Only' sign to be hung in bakeries or other stores."

Attorneys for the First Liberty Institute, which argued for the Kleins in front of the Oregon Court of Appeals last March, contend the bakery owners are being denied their First Amendment right to free speech and can't be forced under state law to endorse same-sex marriage by serving a same-sex couple.

"We believe that freedom of expression for ourselves means freedom of expression for others," said Mike Berry, a First Liberty attorney, via Skype. "And what's unfortunate here is that a family and their business has been punished because of their religious beliefs. And that's not America. That's just flat out wrong."

The Kleins weren't available for comment Thursday. Their attorneys haven't decided yet whether they will appeal the court's decision to the Oregon Supreme Court. They have a month to decide whether to do so.

The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments earlier this month in a similar case involving a bakery in Colorado. It's unclear how much impact a decision in that case might have in the case involving the Kleins.

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