The owners of an Oregon bakery are refusing to pay $135,000 in state-ordered damages to a same-sex couple who were denied service.
Melissa and Aaron Klein, owners of Sweet Cakes by Melissa, cited religious beliefs when they refused to bake a wedding cake for Laurel and Rachel Bowman-Cryer more than two years ago.
The couple were awarded the damages in July by Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian for emotional suffering, saying the owners had violated the women’s civil rights by discriminating on the basis of their sexual orientation. They were also slapped with a gag order that prohibited them from speaking publicly about their refusal to participate in or bake wedding cakes for same-sex marriages.
The Kleins have filed an appeal of the ruling and are defying the order to pay. They’re claiming financial hardship although crowdfunding efforts have raised more than $500,000 on their behalf, according to The Oregonian.
"It's difficult to understand the Kleins' unwillingness to pay the debt when they have, very publicly, raised nearly a half million dollars," labor bureau spokesman Charlie Burr told The Oregonian in an email Wednesday. "They are entitled to a full and fair review of the case, but do not have the right to disregard a legally binding order."
A lawyer for the Kleins, Anna Harmon, told The Oregonian she couldn't comment about her clients' actions, citing the ongoing litigation.
The dispute goes back to January 2013 when Bowman-Cryer came into the shop with her mother for a cake-tasting appointment. However, Aaron Klein told the women that the bakery didn’t do cakes for same-sex weddings.
The Oregonian reports the couple complained to the labor bureau, which prompted a state investigation, four days of hearings and Avakian’s July ruling.
The Willamette Week reported that the Kleins’ lawyers asked Avakian to delay enforcement of his order while the Oregon Court of Appeals reviews the case. They reportedly said the payment would lead to “financial ruin.”
However, Avakian repeatedly rejected the requests, citing the amounts raised for the Kleins from crowdfunding websites. He issued his final rejection notice on July 27.
A 2007 Oregon law protects the rights of gays, lesbians, bisexual and transgender people in employment, housing and public accommodations. It provides an exemption for religious organizations, but the agency ruled that exemption does not allow private businesses to discriminate against potential customers.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.