On Monday, Aaron and Melissa Klein, owners of the Sweet Cakes by Melissa bakery paid a $135,000 fine levied against them by the state of Oregon for refusing on religious grounds to provide a cake for a same-sex commitment ceremony two years ago.
On July 2, 2015, the Oregon labor commissioner had ordered the fine to pay for emotional and mental damages on the basis that the bakers had violated the lesbian couple’s rights by discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation when the Aaron Klein had declined to make a cake citing his religious beliefs against same-sex marriage.
Yesterday’s check was issued for $136,927.07, including accrued interest on the amount, and will be held in escrow while the Kleins appeal the decision. This is in addition to a $7,000 amount that the state’s labor bureau had recovered from a garnished bank account, according to the Oregonian.
The Oregonian further reports that the Kleins have raised over $515,000 to help with the cost of the fine as well as legal costs. The couple decided to go ahead and pay the fine at this point because the state was going to garnish the donated money to pay the fine making it impossible for the couple to earn interest on it. The legal fight will continue in the Oregon Court of Appeals next year and if the Kleins win, they will get their money back next year.
In the meantime, the bakery has closed and the couple is making cakes from their home.
To avoid confusion it should be noted that the Klein case arose prior to Supreme Court’s June 2015 decision in Obergefell v. Hodges upholding same-sex marriage and that this case was predicated on sexual orientation discrimination and did not address the right to marry.
The debilitating amount of the fine imposed on the small Gresham business has sent shockwaves through the legal and business community and the case will be closely watched in 2016 and may well become a national focus in the already intense 2016 presidential race.