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Oregon Court Rules Against Bakers in Same-Sex Wedding Cake Case

While the matter of Masterpiece Cakeshop was argued before the Supreme Court in December, a ruling as yet to be issued. And in the meantime, the Oregon Court of Appeals decided another case of bakers refusing to provide a wedding cake for a same-sex couple, upholding a $135,000 fine against Aaron and Melissa Klein for discrimination under state law.

It was the third ruling against the Kleins' now-closed Sweet Cakes by Melissa, but its validity could depend on what the Supreme Court does this term.

Compliance With a Neutral Law

"The Kleins seek an exemption based on their sincere religious opposition to same-sex marriage," Appeals Court Judge Chris Garrett wrote. "But those with sincere religious objections to marriage between people of different races, ethnicities or faiths could just as readily demand the same exemption." The court upheld an Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries determination that the couple's refusal to bake a wedding cake for Rachel and Laurel Bowman-Cryer violated a state law prohibiting sexual-orientation discrimination in places of public accommodation.

The court held that the "denial of service was 'on account of' the complainants' sexual orientation for purposes of that statute," and was not swayed by the Kleins' First Amendment claims:

As for their constitutional arguments, we conclude that the final order does not impermissibly burden the Kleins' right to free expression under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. We conclude that ... the final order does not impermissibly burden the Kleins' right to the free exercise of their religion because it simply requires their compliance with a neutral law of general applicability, and the Kleins have made no showing that the state targeted them for enforcement because of their religious beliefs.

A Line of Cases

The court also ruled that the $135,000 the couple received in damages for emotional distress wasn't "out of line with previous cases." The Kleins paid the award in 2015, and it has remained in escrow pending a possible appeal to the Oregon Supreme Court, or what the Supreme Court may do this year.

As we noted above, the Court heard oral arguments in the case of a Colorado baker who also refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple. Justice Anthony Kennedy is expected to be the swing vote in 5-4 decision, and a ruling for the baker in that case could be the basis for another appeal for the Kleins in this one.

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