The Supreme Court on Monday declined to take up a case involving an Oregon bakery that refused to bake a cake for a lesbian wedding, sending the dispute back to a state court and forgoing an opportunity to clarify its position on the matter after ruling narrowly in favor of a Colorado baker in a similar case last year.
Melissa and Aaron Klein, who together own Sweetcakes by Melissa, were fined $135,000 after a lesbian couple filed a complaint with Oregon’s Board of Labor and Industries in response to the Kleins’ refusal to bake a cake for their wedding. The Supreme Court’s Monday decision represents a partial victory for the Kleins as it wipes out a lower court’s previous ruling against them and temporarily spares them from paying the fine, the threat of which forced them to close their bakery.
The case represented an opportunity for the Court’s conservative majority to expand upon the ruling they handed down last year in the case of Jack Phillips, a Colorado baker who was fined after refusing to bake a custom wedding cake for a gay couple. The court ruled narrowly in Phillips’s favor after finding that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission displayed “anti-religious hostility” in applying the state’s anti-discrimination laws to him.
The Kleins have employed the same defense as Phillips in their fight against state regulators: Custom wedding cakes, they argue, constitute works of art and, as such, should be protected under the First Amendment.
An Oregon court of appeals had previously dismissed that argument, on the grounds that “even when custom-designed for a ceremonial occasion, [wedding cakes] are still cakes made to be eaten.” The court’s logic was echoed by the state in its filings urging SCOTUS not to hear the Kleins’ appeal.
“Baking is conduct, not speech,” the state wrote in those filings. “A bakery open to the public has no right to discriminate against customers on the basis of their sexual orientation.”