Sunday, July 05, 2015

The Sweetcakes by Melissa Decision

Sweetcakes by Melissa, a bakery that specialized in wedding cakes and owned by MK and AK, refused to supply a wedding cake to a lesbian couple in January of 2013 citing their religious convictions.

The bakery had been approached by one of the women, RBC, and her mother, CM. because the bakery had supplied a cake for the mother's wedding and they had also been recommended by the venue where the wedding was to take place. However, after a cake tasting session, when one of the partners, AK, asked for the name of the bride and groom, and was informed that it was two women, he refused to supply the cake because they didn't make cakes for same sex ceremonies.

At the refusal RBC began crying and her mother escorted her to the car outside. The mother then returned to the store to try and change AK's mind. In response the store owner apparently implied to CM that "her children were an abomination unto God." Or at least he quoted a passage from Leviticus that said as much.

Ultimately RBC's partner, LBC, filed a complaint against Sweetcakes by Melissa with the Oregon Department of Justice (DOJ) for discrimination. The final decision was handed down by the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI).

That's the 30,000 foot level and apparently the facts as stated above are not in dispute.

But other things happened.

The DOJ, following standard procedure, sent a copy of the complaint to the bakery and, observing that there were always two sides to every story, asked that they send a response to the complainant and send a copy to the DOJ.

The next day AK posred a copy of the first page of the complaint, which contained names, addresses, phone numbers and e-mails of both sides but not the details of the complaint, on his facebook page with the comment "this is what happens when you tell gay people you won't do your wedding cake."

When LBC was informed by friends of the facebook posting, she called her lawyer and the posting was taken down later that day.

It was apparently also AK and MK that first went to the media about the case including an interview on CBN where a picture of a note pinned to the store was shown which read in part:

"Closed but still in business...The fight is not over. We will continue to stand strong. Your religious freedom is becoming not free anymore. The LORD is good and we will continue to serve HIM with all our heart."

CM let the wedding venue, because they had recommended the bakery, know of the refusal so they wouldn't steer other same sex couple to the same place. She also posted a warning on the Sweetcakes facebook page.

Finally RBC filed a complaint with BOLI in August of 2013 that Sweetcakes by Melissa had discriminated against her because of her sexual orientation.

Ultimately AK was found to have violated ORS 659A.403 which prohibits discrimination based upon sexual orientation and both AK and MK were found to have violated ORS 659A.409 which prohibits posting or publishing a statement to the effect that services will be denied to someone based upon sexual orientation.  Since they were partners in Sweetcakes for Melissa, they are equally responsible for the damages awarded which amounted to $135,000.

When I originally heard the number $135,000 my immediate reaction was that this sounded a bit extreme. However, after reading the decision and the issues caused over this nonsense, I'm not sure it is too extreme.

To people who continue to argue that they were just refusing to participate in a same sex wedding gay and not discriminating because the couple was gay, allow me to explain that legally there is no difference as stated in the decision.

"Respondents claim they are not denying service because of Complainants sexual orientation but rather because they do not wish to participate in their same sex wedding ceremony. The forum has already found there to be no distinction between the two. Further, to allow Respondents, a for profit business, to deny any services to people because of their protected class, would be tantamount to allowing legal separation of people based on their sexual orientation from at least some portion of the public marketplace. This would clearly be contrary to Oregon law as well as any standard by which people in a free society choose to treat each other."

The decision also explains the rationale for the decision beautifully.

"Within Oregon’s public accommodations law is the basic principle of human decency that every person, regardless of their sexual orientation, has the freedom to fully participate in society. The ability to enter public places, to shop, to dine, to move about unfettered by bigotry. 

When Respondents denied RBC and LBC a wedding cake, their act was more than the denial of the product. It was and is, a denial of RBC’s and LBC’s freedom to participate equally. It is the epitome of being told there are places you cannot go, things you cannot do...or be. Respondent’s conduct was a clear and direct statement that RBC and LBC lacked an identity worthy of being recognized. 

The denial of these basic freedoms to which all are entitled devalues the human condition of the individual, and in doing so, devalues the humanity of us all."

In other words Sweetakes by Melissa was not only discriminating against a gay couple, they were discriminating against all of us. You'll excuse me, but that's not part of religious freedom.

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