PORTLAND, Ore. — A hearing is scheduled in March to determine how much in damages two Oregon bakers owe a lesbian couple for refusing to bake them a wedding cake in 2013.
An administrative law judge has rejected the bakers’ contention that the state’s discrimination laws violate their religious freedom, the Oregon labor department said Monday.
The bakers unlawfully discriminated against the same-sex couple by denying them full and equal access to a place of public accommodation, said the judge, Alan McCullough.
The controversy began when Rachel Cryer and Laurel Bowman went to the Sweet Cakes shop seeking a wedding cake. When they learned there were two brides, Aaron and Melissa Klein refused to make a cake.
The Kleins have since closed the shop and moved their business to their home.
Cryer and Bowman held a commitment ceremony in June 2013 and were married in May 2014, four days after a federal judge ruled that same-sex marriage was legal in Oregon.
Investigators for the state Bureau of Labor and Industries a year ago recommended $75,000 in damages.
McCullough is to hold the damages hearing in March and make a recommendation to the state’s elected labor commissioner, Brad Avakian.
His decision could be appealed to the courts.
Although the two sides went through a conciliation process as part of the agency’s procedures, the two sides haven’t changed their standpoints.
Article continues belowPaul Thompson, a Portland lawyer advising the lesbian couple, told The Oregonian Monday he was happy with the ruling.
“The entire time, I felt the law was very much on our side because the law is black and white,” he said. “You cannot discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation.”
Anna Harmon of Canby, one of three attorneys representing the Kleins, said the judge was wrong to decide that neither the state nor the federal constitution protects their right “not to design and create a work of art celebrating an event which violates the tenets of their religion.”
“Americans should not have to choose between adhering to their faith or closing their business, but that is what this decision means,” she said in an email.
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