Yesterday — just in time for the Fourth of July holiday — Oregon Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian issued his long-awaited ruling against Aaron and Melissa Klein, owners of the since-closed Sweet Cakes by Melissa. Finding them guilty of sexual orientation discrimination for refusing to bake a cake to celebrate a same-sex wedding, Avakian not only ordered the Kleins to pay $135,000 in “emotional damages” to the complaining lesbian couple, he also slapped a gag order on them, ordering them 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 be made against, any person on account of their sexual orientation.” In other words, if the Kleins continue to proclaim their unwillingness to celebrate gay marriage in their business activities, they’re in likely violation of Avakian’s order.
This ruling is absurd and dangerous. It’s absurd to think that the complaining couple is entitled to six figures in emotional damages simply because a Christian couple refused to bake a cake for their “wedding.” In an ideologically, culturally, and religiously diverse country, the idea of encountering a person who disagrees with your life choices is hardly traumatic, and women who can’t handle a brief encounter with bakers who don’t want to help cater their wedding don’t need “damages,” they need counseling.
Further, Avakian is dangerously — and likely intentionally — obfuscating the law. In a world of reason and logic, the Kleins simply aren’t guilty of unlawful sexual orientation discrimination. They would happily serve gay customers, but they will not use their talents or their business to advance a message they find deeply offensive. That’s not invidious discrimination, it’s free speech. If the Kleins refused to bake a Confederate battle flag cake for a white couple from Tennessee, would Avakian find them guilty of race discrimination? Of course not. He’d back the Kleins, and they’d all be toasted at The Huffington Post. In my own law practice, I’ve represented gay clients, but I would never use my legal training to advocate for same-sex marriage. Does that mean I’m guilty of sexual orientation discrimination? If I lived in Avakian’s world, would I be subject to a gag order preventing me from speaking about the cases I won’t take?
In my Fourth of July piece today, I made the case that this is exactly the right time to be an American. We are at a hinge point in history. We should want to be here, now, to fight to preserve the land we love, and way to make a difference is through defiance. The Kleins are unbowed:
According to the state of Oregon we neither have freedom of religion or freedom of speech. We will NOT give up this fight, and we will NOT be silenced. We stand for God’s truth, God’s word and freedom for ALL Americans. We are here to obey God not man, and we will not conform to this world. If we were to lose everything it would be totally worth it for our Lord who gave his one and only son, Jesus, for us! God will win this fight!
It’s a bittersweet Independence Day weekend. Petty public officials disregard the Constitution, and our fundamental freedoms start to slip away. As we ponder our own response, may we show even half the courage of Aaron and Melissa Klein.