"They have good days and bad days, but I will tell you they are resolute,” attorney Herb Grey says of his clients, Aaron and Melissa Klein, two bakers from Portland who are facing a $135,000 fine from the state of Oregon for refusing to bake a cake for a lesbian commitment ceremony in January 2013. “They know that today it’s them, but that there’s nothing they can do to escape from it, and they’re willing to stand up, knowing what the potential implications are for other people.”
It’s safe to say that July 2 was not one of the Kleins’ better days. Brad Avakian, a commissioner with the state Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI), issued a ruling that upheld the $135,000 fine for violating state public accommodation laws suggested by an administrative judge in April. The couple were told to pay the fine by July 13 or the state would place a lien on their home. Not only that, but Avakian added an astonishing wrinkle. He issued a gag order that effectively prevents the couple from saying much of anything about the case: “The Commissioner of the Bureau of Labor and Industries hereby orders Respondents Aaron and Melissa Klein to cease and desist from publishing, circulating, issuing or displaying, or causing to be published . . . any communication to the effect that any of the accommodations . . . will be refused, withheld from or denied to, or that any discrimination will be made against, any person on account of their sexual orientation.”
The state insists that this is not a gag order, that it narrowly restricts what the Kleins may say about who they will serve. (Their bakery, Sweetcakes By Melissa, was shuttered in 2013 thanks to negative publicity surrounding the case, though the couple are trying to keep their business alive online.) But according to Grey, who is one of three lawyers working with the Christian legal group Alliance Defending Freedom to represent the Kleins, the couple have never stated an intention to discriminate, only stated why they took the stand they did in the instance that got them into trouble. Besides, the Kleins have no problem serving gay customers. They had previously served the lesbian woman who filed the complaint against them. They simply decline to make cakes for same-sex weddings, since to do so, in their view, would betray their Christian conscience.
This didn’t stop Avakian, in the July 2 ruling, from citing the following statements by the Kleins as proclaiming their intention to discriminate:
I didn’t want to be a part of her marriage, which I think is wrong.
I am who I am and I want to live my life the way I want to live my life and, you know, I choose to serve God.
It’s one of those things where you never want to see something you’ve put so much work into go belly up, but on the other hand, I have faith in the Lord and he’s taken care of us up to this point and I’m sure he will in the future.
We will continue to stand strong. Your religious freedom is becoming not free anymore. This is ridiculous that we cannot practice our faith. The Lord is good and we will continue to serve Him with all our heart.
Another statement that Avakian singles out seems more clear cut: “We don’t do same-sex marriage, same-sex wedding cakes.” Yet even here, Avakian is being willfully obtuse. The transcript of the radio interview in which Aaron Klein said this shows that he was merely recounting what he told the customer at the time he declined to bake her cake, not announcing his future intentions.
“The way we look at it, and if you put it in First Amendment terms, if you don’t know where the line is drawn, you don’t know how close you can get to it, which means that you tend to engage in less speech to try to stay away from going over the line,” says Grey. “Our perception was that it was in fact a gag order that basically limited us from talking about the case really at all. . . . [The Kleins] don’t know what might trigger a future violation and further complaints and further action by the commissioner.”
The hefty fine and the gag order are hardly the only outrageous things about Avakian’s decree. On page 34, the ruling reads, “In addition to any emotional suffering experienced by Complainants as a direct result of Sweetcakes’ refusal to bake them a cake (‘denial of service’), the agency also seeks damages for suffering caused to the Complainants by media publicity and social media response to this case.”