In February, a lesbian couple asked Melissa and Aaron Klein, the owners of Sweet Cakes, to bake a wedding cake for their commitment ceremony. Though the Kleins serve all customers on a regular basis, on this occasion, the request would have required them to actively support a same-sex commitment ceremony. Because facilitating such a ceremony would violate their beliefs, they declined to participate. Soon afterwards, Oregon’s Bureau of Labor and Industries notified the bakery that it was the subject of a formal investigation.
“The goal is to rehabilitate,” said the bureau’s commissioner, Brad Avakian. “For those who do violate the law, we want them to learn from that experience and have a good, successful business in Oregon.”
How would government authorities “rehabilitate” the bakery owners? An Oregon judge could assess civil penalties. In a very similar situation, after New Mexico–based Elane Photography declined to participate in same-sex commitment ceremony in 2006, the New Mexico Human Rights Commission ordered Elane Photography to pay $6,637.94 in attorney’s fees to the lesbian couple who filed a complaint.
Sweet Cakes in Oregon has also been the subject of vicious protests and boycotts by activists. For the past few months, the Kleins have received hundreds of phone calls and letters—some reportedly even including death threats to the family.
Fearing for the safety of their family, the Kleins decided to shut down their small business.
However, they have not given up the fight for their religious freedom. A note taped to the front door of the closed shop stated: “This fight is not over. We will continue to stand strong. Your religious freedom is becoming not free anymore.”
A recent Rasmussen poll found that 85 percent of Americans agree that business owners should have the right not to participate in same-sex commitment ceremonies. Protecting religious freedom, a founding principle of our nation and the first right protected by the Constitution, is essential to protecting all our liberties.
Small business owners should not be forced to choose between violating their deeply held beliefs and protecting their families. Federal, state, and local policy should protect the rights of businesses to maintain their religious or moral beliefs even as they provide services to the public. The kind of sexual orientation and gender identity nondiscrimination laws used against Sweet Cakes owners threaten the religious freedom guaranteed by the Constitution to all Americans.