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Supreme Court Sends Oregon Wedding Cake Case Back to State

Supreme Court

The Supreme Court today declined to hear the appeal of an Oregon bakery that was fined for refusing to provide a wedding cake for a same-sex couple, but it ordered an Oregon court to reconsider its decision in light of the similar case from Colorado decided by the high court last year.

The order represents a “partial victory” for the owners of Sweet Cakes by Melissa, a now-closed bakery in Gresham, Ore., NBC News reports.

The bakery in 2013 declined to create a cake for the commitment ceremony (same-sex marriage was not yet legal) of Rachel Cryer and Laurel Bowman. Owners Aaron and Melissa Klein said that doing so would violate their religious beliefs, and when Cryer’s mother appealed, Aaron Klein quoted the Bible and said same-sex relationships were “an abomination.”

The Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries found that the bakery had violated state law banning discrimination based on sexual orientation in public accommodations as well as other venues. The Oregon Court of Appeals and the state Supreme Court upheld this finding. The Kleins claimed that creating the cake would conflict with their First Amendment rights to freedom of expression and freedom of religion. They were fined $135,000, which they have placed in an escrow account while their appeals went on. 

The U.S. Supreme Court today vacated the fine and sent the case back to the Oregon Court of Appeals for further consideration in light of the high court’s decision in Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. In that case the court found that the commission had shown hostility to Masterpiece owner Jack Phillips’s religious beliefs in holding him in violation of the state’s antidiscrimination law. The Supreme Court did not endorse a broad right to discriminate, but it ordered the state to reconsider its ruling against Phillips, which was eventually vacated.

The high court had similarly punted in the case of a Washington State florist who had refused to provide flowers for a same-sex couple’s wedding, sending it back to state courts for reconsideration in light of Masterpiece. The Washington Supreme Court recently ruled that it saw no reason to change its decision holding Arlene’s Flowers owner Barronelle Stutzman in violation of state nondiscrimination law, as all bodies hearing the case had shown neutrality toward her religious beliefs. The Alliance Defending Freedom, the anti-LGBTQ legal group representing Stutzman, has said it plans to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court again.

Lambda Legal, representing the Oregon couple, expressed disappointment with today’s order. “It is very disappointing that the U.S. Supreme Court did not simply deny the discriminating baker’s request for more review,” Jennifer C. Pizer, Lambda Legal senior counsel and law and policy director, said in a press release. “It is a longstanding legal rule that the freedom of religion is not a license for businesses to discriminate, and this is one more case about a wedding cake in which an antigay business owner is trying to use religious beliefs to excuse denying commercial services to a lesbian couple. Just as the Washington Supreme Court did earlier this month in the Arlene’s Flowers case, the Oregon Court of Appeals ruled correctly that businesses violate Oregon law when they refuse to serve LGBT families.  We are confident that, just as in Arlene’s Flowers, now that the U.S. Supreme Court has sent the case back to the state court for a second look, the Oregon court will again confirm that this discrimination case has been handled fairly and justly, precisely as Oregon law and the U.S. Constitution require. But it is unfortunate that this case drags on for Rachel and Laurel and their two girls because the case already has taken years, and courts already have ruled consistently that how they were treated was wrong and very hurtful. Rachel and Laurel were looking forward to planning their wedding and providing their daughters with additional family support and security, only to be met with condemnation at their first stop. That experience turned their celebratory anticipation into dread and depression. This is not just about cake. It’s about the harms and humiliation LGBT people endure on a daily basis just trying to live their lives and to participate in society like everyone else.”

“No one should ever experience what we went through when planning what should be one of life’s more joyous moments,” Rachel Bowman-Cryer said in the same release. “To be called an ‘abomination’ because of who you are and who you love, and now always to be afraid that the next store we go into will reject us with the same contempt and discrimination — that’s the legacy of our treatment by the Kleins. We are disappointed that the Supreme Court did not wrap this up once and for all, but we are hopeful that courts that understood how stigmatizing that illegal treatment is and how it harmed our entire family will reconfirm their earlier decision.”

The order did not say which justices voted which way on whether to hear the case.

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