In January 2013, Rachel Cryer and her mother walked into Sweet Cakes By Melissa, a bakery in Gresham, Oregon, and tried to order a wedding cake. Aaron Klein, the co-owner (and Melissa’s husband), was informed Cryer would be marrying another woman. He apologized and told them that providing a cake for a same-sex wedding violated his Christian convictions. Cryer walked out of the store.
In a suburb adjacent to Portland, one of the most progressive cities in America, Sweet Cakes By Melissa was living on borrowed time once the incident became public. (The city is so famously tolerant that Sam Adams, the first openly gay mayor of a major city, survived two recall attempts after it was revealed that he had lied about having a relationship with an underage teenage boy. His supporters initially smeared those making the accusations as homophobic.) Protests started outside the bakery soon after, and by September 2013 Sweet Cakes had closed its doors.
You might think that once Sweet Cakes By Melissa had been driven out of business, the good citizens offended by the Kleins’ beliefs would have called it a day. But the totalitarianism of America’s liberal culture warriors is a thing to behold.
On April 24, 2015, more than a year and a half after the bakery was shuttered, Alan McCullough, an administrative law judge for Oregon’s Bureau of Labor and Industries, ordered the Kleins to pay $135,000 in fines for violating the state’s public accommodation laws. It is impossible to see this award as anything but excessively punitive. A few years back, a New Mexico wedding photographer was penalized by that state for refusing to work at a same-sex commitment ceremony. The fine in that case was $6,637.
McCullough arrived at his determination by citing a laundry list of damages asserted by Cryer and her partner. Since this was an administrative decision, there was no requirement the women prove their claims. And so they piled them on: “felt mentally raped, dirty and shameful” and “pale and sick at home after work,” suffered “shock,” “surprise,” and “uncertainty.” Some are contradictory: both “loss of appetite” and “weight gain.” The judge was apparently moved.
The Kleins have five children to take care of, and their income has dropped precipitously since their business closed. Aaron now works as a garbage collector. They say the fine could bankrupt them. So shortly after the decision was handed down, supporters started taking up a collection on the popular GoFundMe website. In just a few hours, donors had contributed $109,000 to the Kleins. Then GoFundMe, under pressure from critics of the Kleins, shut down the fundraiser. The rationale? The website has a policy of refusing fundraisers “in defense of formal charges of heinous crimes, including violent, hateful, or sexual acts.”
Behind the organized campaign to pressure GoFundMe was Lisa Watson, the owner of Cupcake Jones in downtown Portland. (Cupcake Jones also provides wedding cakes and was presumably a competitor of Sweet Cakes By Melissa.) “This business has been found GUILTY OF DISCRIMINATION and is being allowed to fundraise to pay their penalty. . . . The amount of money they have raised in a matter of a few hours by thousands of anonymous cowards is disgusting,” Watson wrote on her Facebook page.
The First Amendment issues surrounding compelled participation in a same-sex marriage celebration are far from settled, and it’s absurd to think the Kleins are guilty of a “heinous crime.” Even Andrew Sullivan, the writer perhaps most responsible for making gay marriage a legal reality, has spoken out against such inquisitions: “If you find someone who’s genuinely conflicted about doing something for your wedding, let them be. Find someone else.”
But ironically, pleas for tolerance are not carrying the day, either in Portland or in the gay community. On April 25, Cupcake Jones was given an award for LGBT activism by Basic Rights Oregon. Prominent gay activist and radio host Michelangelo Signorile has a new book out in which he declares, “It’s time for us to be intolerant—intolerant of all forms of . . . bigotry against LBGT people.”
C. S. Lewis once warned that a tyranny of “omnipotent moral busybodies” would be the worst tyranny of all, for “those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end . . . with the approval of their own conscience.” The Klein family’s Jacobin persecutors are intent on stamping out a Christian morality they believe to be rigid and punitive. By inflicting inordinate material harm and insisting on a total capitulation of conscience, they only reveal their own pernicious and pitiless ambitions.