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Sweet Cakes by Melissa breaks record on crowdfunding site

The Gresham bakery that refused to make a wedding cake for a lesbian couple is breaking records with its crowdfunding campaign.
The now-closed storefront of Sweet Cakes by Melissa bakery in Gresham

PORTLAND, Ore. - The Gresham bakery that refused to make a wedding cake for a lesbian couple is breaking records with its crowdfunding campaign.

Sweet Cakes by Melissa was kicked off GoFundMe earlier this year, but has since raised more than $350,000 on the crowdfunding site Continue to Give. The growing total, which far exceeds the couple's $150,000 goal, is the largest individual campaign in the history of the three-year-old site, the Washington Times reported. The couple previously netted more than $60,000 from Go Fund Me before that campaign was taken down.

The founder of Continue to Give, Jesse Wellhoefer, said he refused to remove the Sweet Cakes campaign despite "lots and lots" of complaints, according to the Washington Times.

The bakery owners, Aaron and Melissa Klein, were ordered to pay the couple $135,000 in damages, the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries ruled July 2.

Aaron Klein said he has no plans to stop the Continue to Give campaign and there is no end date set.

"The future is unknown," said Klein, who hasn't been working at his job as a garbage collector since he injured his arm. "I don't know what taxes are owed on this."

Melissa Klein is also out of work, except for baking for family and friends.

Klein said he plans to appeal BOLI's decision and if there is extra money when the legal battle is over, he might donate it to charity.

BOLI rules in favor of couple

Following a two-year investigation into whether the bakery violated Oregon's anti-discrimination laws, BOLI ruled July 2 that the Kleins must pay Rachel and Laurel Bowman-Cryer $135,000 for refusing to bake them a wedding cake because of their sexual orientation.

"This case is not about a wedding cake or a marriage. It is about a business's refusal to serve someone because of their sexual orientation. Under Oregon law, that is illegal," BOLI said in its final ruling. "Within Oregon's public accommodations law is the basic principle of human decency that every person, regardless of their sexual orientation, has the freedom to fully participate in society. The ability to enter public places, to shop, to dine, to move about unfettered by bigotry."

The Bowman-Cryers said they were happy with the decision following a difficult two years that included attacks on social media and even death threats.

"This has been a horrible ordeal for our entire family," the couple said in a statement. "We never imagined finding ourselves caught up in a fight for social justice. We knew it was on us to set an example for our two kids - to stand up for what is right."

Aaron Klein said he will file an appeal with the Oregon Court of Appeal.

"The first amendment guarantees my right to freedom of speech," Klein said. "We are looking forward to getting [the case] in a court that recognizes the constitution."

Discrimination compliant filed

In January 2013, Sweet Cakes by Melissa Bakery declined to make a wedding cake for the Bowman-Cryers, citing their religious beliefs.

The couple filed a discrimination complaint with the Bureau of Labor and Industries.

In April of 2015, an administrative law judge proposed that the owners of the bakery, Aaron and Melissa Klein, pay $135,000 to the couple. The judge, Alan McCullough, ruled that Sweet Cakes by Melissa discriminated against the Bowman-Cryers by refusing to bake them a wedding cake.

The case is one that has been referenced in the national debate over religious freedom and discrimination against the LGBT community.

The award is for emotional suffering. The maximum penalty that could have been assessed was $150,000, or $75,000 per person. Judge McCullough awarded $60,000 in damages to Laurel Bowman-Cryer and $75,000 in damages to Rachel Bowman-Cryer.

Both sides reviewed the proposal and had the chance to file exceptions.

Aaron and Melissa Klein fought the judge's ruling, citing their religious freedom and inability to pay the funds.

Oregon Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian issued the final order July 2. According to BOLI spokesman Charlie Burr, the $135,000 award is comparable to other similar cases and is not the largest equality act ruling the state has seen "by a long shot."

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Basic Rights Oregon commended Avakian's decision and for enforcing Oregon's anti-discrimination laws.

"Religious freedom is a fundamental part of America, and is written into our state's constitution already," said Nancy Haque, Basic Rights Oregon's Co-Director. "But those beliefs don't entitle any of us to discriminate against others. Religious liberty should not be used to discriminate against people."

Klein said Avakian has been biased "from the get-go" and he was not surprised by the final order.

"When you have [a government] that tells you what you have to say in this situation it should scare everybody," he said.

The Kleins closed their Gresham store in 2013.

Following the April ruling, the Kleins started a GoFundMe account, which has since been taken down after complaints by same-sex marriage supporters. They received around $60,000 after taxes once it was shuttered.

On July 2, Melissa Klein posted a statement to her Facebook page:

The final ruling has been made today. We have been charged with $135,000 in emotional damages, But also now Aaron has been charged with advertising. (Basically talking about not wanting to participate in a same-sex wedding) This effectively strips us of all our first amendment rights. According to the state of Oregon we neither have freedom of religion or freedom of speech. We will NOT give up this fight, and we will NOT be silenced. We stand for God's truth, God's word and freedom for ALL americans. We are here to obey God not man, and we will not conform to this world. If we were to lose everything it would be totally worth it for our Lord who gave his one and only son, Jesus, for us! God will win this fight!


Max Barr contributed to this report.