Supreme Court Punts on Lambda Legal Case of Oregon Baker Who Refused to Bake Wedding Cake for Lesbian Couple

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June 17, 2019
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(Washington, DC, June 17, 2019) – The U.S. Supreme Court today ruled that the Oregon Court of Appeals must look again at how the Oregon court system processed the discrimination claim against an Oregon bakery, Sweetcakes by Melissa, and its conclusion that the bakery violated Oregon’s nondiscrimination statutes when they refused to bake a wedding cake for Lambda Legal clients Rachel and Laurel Bowman-Cryer, because they said doing so would violate the owners’ religious beliefs.

The Court today ordered the case sent back to the Oregon court for reconsideration in light of its narrow 2018 ruling in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Human Rights Commission finding in favor of a Colorado baker who refused to sell a wedding cake to a same-sex couple.

“It is very disappointing that the US Supreme Court did not simply deny the discriminating baker’s request for more review.  It is a longstanding legal rule that the freedom of religion is not a license for businesses to discriminate, and this is one more case about a wedding cake in which an antigay business owner is trying to use religious beliefs to excuse denying commercial services to a lesbian couple." 

"Just as the Washington Supreme Court did earlier this month in the Arlene’s Flowers case, the Oregon Court of Appeals ruled correctly that businesses violate Oregon law when they refuse to serve LGBT families.  We are confident that, just as in Arlene’s Flowers, now that the U.S. Supreme Court has sent the case back to the state court for a second look, the Oregon court will again confirm that this discrimination case has been handled fairly and justly, precisely as Oregon law and the U.S. Constitution require,” said Jennifer C. Pizer, Senior Counsel and Law & Policy Director, Lambda Legal.

“But it is unfortunate that this case drags on for Rachel and Laurel and their two girls because the case already has taken years, and courts already have ruled consistently that how they were treated was wrong and very hurtful. Rachel and Laurel were looking forward to planning their wedding and providing their daughters with additional family support and security, only to be met with condemnation at their first stop.

"That experience turned their celebratory anticipation into dread and depression. This is not just about cake. It’s about the harms and humiliation LGBT people endure on a daily basis just trying to live their lives and to participate in society like everyone else.”

“No one should ever experience what we went through when planning what should be one of life’s more joyous moments,” Rachel Bowman-Cryer said.

“To be called an ‘abomination’ because of who you are and who you love, and now always to be afraid that the next store we go into will reject us with the same contempt and discrimination – that’s the legacy of our treatment by the Kleins. We are disappointed that the Supreme Court did not wrap this up once and for all, but we are hopeful that courts that understood how stigmatizing that illegal treatment is and how it harmed our entire family will reconfirm their earlier decision.”

Six years ago, Laurel and Rachel Bowman-Cryer, who had been together 10 years and were adoptive parents to two special needs children, decided to get married. In planning for the wedding, Rachel went with her mother to a wedding cake tasting at “Sweetcakes by Melissa” in the Portland suburb of Gresham, co-owned by Melissa and Aaron Klein.

However, when Aaron Klein learned that the wedding was for a lesbian couple, he said, “We don’t do same-sex weddings.” He then called the couple an “abomination,” citing Bible verses.

The Bowman-Cryers filed complaints with the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries and Department of Justice. The Kleins responded by engaging in an aggressive public defense of their discrimination, causing the Bowman-Cryers to be inundated with hateful messages, stalking, and death threats.

The Bureau of Labor and Industries determined that the Kleins had violated the Oregon Public Accommodations Law and, because their conduct caused serious emotional harm to Rachel and Laurel, assessed damages of $135,000 against the Kleins. The Kleins appealed, and the Oregon Court of Appeals upheld the Bureau of Labor and Industries’ determination in December 2017.

The Kleins, represented by the anti-LGBTQ legal organization First Liberty Institute, then petitioned the Oregon Supreme Court for review, which was denied last year. Today the US Supreme Court vacated the Oregon court’s ruling in favor of Rachel and Laurel and asked the lower court to review the case again in light of the ruling in the Masterpiece Cakeshop decision last year.