Aaron and Melissa Klein
Sweet Cakes by Melissa: Gresham, Oregon
Aaron and Melissa Klein's dream of opening a dessert shop near Portland, Oregon turned into a nightmare when two lesbians refused to take "no" for an answer on their request for a same-sex wedding cake. In January 2013, the Kleins explained that they couldn't take the order because it would violate their faith to participate in a same-sex marriage ceremony. Furious, the women filed a complaint with the state. The story made national headlines, as the Kleins became another face in the war on religious liberty. "We still stand by what we believe from the beginning," Aaron told reporters. "I'm not sure what the future holds, but as far as where we're at right now... it's almost as if the state is hostile toward Christian businesses." And the state isn't the only one.
After word spread, the harassment in the liberal suburb of Portland became too much to take. The Kleins were forced to close the shop in Gresham and operate out of their home. Even there, the family was a target. Activists broke into their company truck and painted "bigot" across the side. Twelve months later, in January 2014, the state of Oregon weighed in-and not on the side of free speech and free exercise. Investigators from the state Bureau of Labor and Industries ruled that the couple was guilty of discrimination and ordered the Kleins to settle. If they refused, the Bureau threatened to bring "formal charges."
Herbert Grey, the bakers' attorney, was flabbergasted. "They're being punished by the state of Oregon for refusing to participate in an event the state of Oregon does not recognize." Even the state constitution defined marriage the same way as Aaron and Melissa—yet they're being persecuted. While the couple debated their next move, they indicated that surrender was not an option. In a Facebook post to her 12,000 fans, Melissa thanked people for their support. "I know that your prayers are being heard. I feel such a peace with all of this that is going on. Even though there are days that are hard... we still feel that the Lord is in this. It is His fight and our situation is in His hands."
On September 26, 2014, Aaron and Melissa shared their story at the Family Research Council's Values Voter Summit: "What it came down to was, [Melissa] has a God-given talent to create a work of art to celebrate a union between two people, and to use that in a manner that would be, you know, in the face of what the Bible says it should be, I just couldn't in good conscience agree to do it."
When Melissa teared up explaining how meaningful it was to be a part of the brides' and grooms' lives, Americans finally got a glimpse of the real victims in this debate. And it isn't the radical Left. "To be told they're going to force me to convey a message other than what I want to convey—it flies in the face of the Constitution," Aaron explained. "It's a violation of my conscience. It's a violation of my religious freedom. It's horrible to see your own government doing this to you." Facing up to $150,000 in damages, Aaron and Melissa made it clear that they were willing to pay a far steeper price to stand up for Christ. After months of being isolated and abused, Melissa was so overwhelmed by the audience's support that she bowed her head, tears running down her face, and explained that it had all been worth it to honor God.
"Make them bake the cake!" On January 2, 2015 an administrative ruled by the state's Bureau of Labor and Industries that in the battle over marriage, their First Amendment rights no longer counted. In this first ruling, the Kleins were found guilty of violating state law for politely declining an order for a same-sex wedding cake. As part of his 52-page order, Judge Alan McCullough claimed that "requir[ing] them to provide a wedding cake for Complainants does not constitute compelled speech." Aaron Klein disagreed. "First Amendment, Constitution. Freedom of religion. I'm free to exercise my religion however I see fit. If I'm told to make a wedding cake for a same-sex marriage, I feel that I'm violating my beliefs. I don't think I should have to do that." Unfortunately for the parents of five, wedding vendors like them may soon have no choice. In the free market, the courts no longer seem to recognize the right to believe what you want.
Anna Harmon, one of the Kleins' three attorneys, said that although the judge tossed out every claim but one, it's still a tough loss. "Americans should not have to choose between adhering to their faith or closing their business, but that is what this decision means... The [judge] ruled wrongly that the Kleins' right not to design and create a work of art celebrating an event which violates the tenets of their religion is not protected by the Oregon or Federal Constitutions. This is a dangerous result for religious liberty and rights of conscience in Oregon..."
UPDATE: On April 25, 2015 Aaron and Melissa were ordered to pay up to $135,000 in fines. The Kleins paid the fine in December, but their case remains on appeal, which will likely be heard in 2016.
Franklin Graham and Samaritan's Purse have set up a fund that would help the Kleins. To read more and to donate, visit this page at Samaritan's Purse.
Photo credit: Courtesy of Sweet Cakes by Melissa