Oregon Courts Are Right To Reject Religious License to Discriminate

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March 15, 2018
The Bowman-Cryer family.

Lambda Legal today urged the Oregon Supreme Court to deny a petition from the former owners of an Oregon bakery seeking to overturn a lower court ruling that they violated Oregon’s anti-discrimination law in 2013 when they refused to sell a wedding cake to a lesbian couple because they claimed it was against their religion.

The petition, filed by the anti-LGBT legal organization First Liberty Institute on behalf of the former owners of Gresham, Oregon-based Sweet Cakes by Melissa, comes as the U.S. Supreme Court is considering a similar case from Colorado, Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in that case late last year.

“Last December, the Oregon Court of Appeals issued a thoughtful, thorough and, most importantly, completely unsurprising ruling that the religious practice protections of the U.S. Constitution were never intended to be used as an excuse to discriminate,” said Nancy Marcus, law and policy senior attorney at Lambda Legal.

“The ruling was consistent with decisions by courts across the country that have similarly refused to create a new constitutional right of businesses to exempt themselves from civil rights laws, and does not warrant review by the Oregon Supreme Court. It is time to let Laurel and Rachel get on with their lives.

“As we argued in our friend-of-the-court brief to the U.S. Supreme Court in Masterpiece Cakeshop, where we highlighted Rachel and Laurel’s experience, it’s not about cake: it’s about protecting LGBT people and families from being forced to endure bigotry and abuse in countless places, from fertility clinic to funeral home, and everywhere in between,” Marcus added.

In January 2013, Laurel and Rachel Bowman-Cryer, who had been together 10 years and were foster parents to two girls, decided to get married. In planning for the wedding, Rachel went with her mother to a wedding cake tasting at Sweet Cakes by Melissa in the Portland suburb of Gresham, co-owned by Melissa and Aaron Klein.

When Aaron learned that the wedding was for a lesbian couple, he said, “We don’t do same-sex weddings.” He then called the couple’s relationship an “abomination.”

The Bowman-Cryers filed complaints with the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries and Department of Justice. The Kleins responded by engaging in a very public defense of their discrimination, and the Bowman-Cryers as a result were inundated with hateful messages and death threats.

The Bureau of Labor and Industries determined that the Kleins had violated the Oregon Public Accommodations Law and fined them $135,000. The Kleins appealed, and the Oregon Court of Appeals upheld the Bureau of Labor and Industries’ determination in December.

“It is deeply wounding to us that this bakery is so determined to deny service to us just because we’re lesbians that they are trying to take this case all the way to the Oregon Supreme Court,” Rachel Bowman-Cryer said.

"No one should be subjected to discrimination, disdain and abuse for who they are and whom they love. But at every step in this case, the Kleins have expressed pride in their horrible treatment of us, including calling our relationship an ‘abomination.’  How could people running a public business think it’s OK to treat anyone like that?”

“This experience has been scary, intimidating, and devastating—and all because we love each other and our daughters, and wanted to celebrate our commitment with our family and friends as other people do,” Laurel Bowman-Cryer added.

“Having lived through all this, we just hope the Oregon Supreme Court will stop this nightmare, let the Court of Appeals decision stand, keep intact the Oregon laws that are supposed to protect us, and allow us to move on with our lives in peace.”