Sweet Cakes discrimination case: 'I was humiliated'

Sweet Cakes owners attend hearing on fine over wedding cake

GRESHAM, Ore. – A Gresham bakery discriminated against a same-sex couple who wanted to purchase a wedding cake, the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries concluded on Feb. 2.

A hearing began Tuesday to determine how much the owners of Sweet Cakes by Melissa must pay for violating the couple's civil rights. BOLI spokesman Charlie Burr explained last month that the amount could be as high as $150,000, or $75,000 for each woman.

An attorney for the bakery owners said Tuesday, "This case has always been about the event, not the complainants or their sexual orientation."

The case sparked national debate after the owners of the bakery claimed their decision was based on their religious beliefs.

In Jan. 2013, Laurel Bowman said Sweet Cakes refused to sell her and her fiancée Rachel Cryer a cake for their upcoming wedding. Bowman said Aaron Klein, the co-owner of Sweet Cakes by Melissa, called the couple's union an "abomination unto the lord."

"He said 'We don't do same-sex weddings,'" Bowman testified during Tuesday's court hearing.

"It was like being punched in the gut," Cryer testified. "I was humiliated. I felt betrayed."

Bowman filed an anti-discrimination complaint with BOLI later that year, alleging that the bakery violated the Oregon Equality Act of 2007, which protects the rights of Oregonians who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.

"Oregonians may not be denied service based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The law provides an exemption for religious organizations and schools, but does not allow private businesses to discriminate based on sexual orientation," Burr said.

Although the owners of Sweet Cakes by Melissa are religious, the bakery is not a religious institution under law.

The BOLI Interim Order announced last month found sufficient evidence that the Kleins discriminated against the same-sex couple.

The owners of Sweet Cakes by Melissa will have to pay up to $75,000 per person who filed the complaint, which means the same-sex couple could be awarded up to $150,000, Burr said.

The Kleins will not be penalized for speaking about the issue on Christian television and radio programs.

Sweet Cakes closed its doors in Dec. 2013, in the midst of the public backlash from the investigation. The owner of the bakery said she would keep making cakes at a home-based bakery.

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KGW reporter Rachael Rafanelli contributed to this report


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