Judge rules Oregon bakery discriminated against gay couple in wedding cake rebuke

PORTLAND, Ore. (Reuters) - An Oregon bakery that refused on religious grounds to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple violated the state’s anti-discrimination laws because the shop is not a registered religious institution, state officials said on Monday.

Sweet Cakes by Melissa, in the Portland area, might have to pay fines of $75,000 or more to two women to whom it refused service in 2013, a Bureau of Labor and Industries administrative judge ruled last week. A hearing to determine the damages is set for March 10.

“The law provides an exemption for religious organizations and schools, but does not allow private businesses to discriminate based on sexual orientation, just as they cannot legally deny service based on race, sex, age, disability or religion,” bureau spokesman Charlie Burr said in a statement.

“The bakery is not a religious institution under the law,” Burr said.

Bakery owners Aaron and Melissa Klein, citing their religious beliefs, refused in 2013 to bake a wedding cake for the two women. The gay couple married in 2014 after a federal judge struck down the state’s same-sex marriage ban.

The ruling was among court decisions that expanded same-sex couples’ marriage rights across the country. More than 30 U.S. states and the District of Columbia now permit same-sex couples to marry.

“The Bible forbids us from proclaiming messages or participating in activities contrary to Biblical principles, including celebrations or ceremonies for uniting same-sex couples,” the Kleins, who are Christians, said in an affidavit filed with the Oregon labor board.

An attorney representing the bakery said the owners would decide whether to appeal after the damages hearing, but called the interim ruling “a wrong and dangerous result for religious liberty and rights of conscience in Oregon.”

Paul Thompson, a lawyer for the lesbian couple, told the Oregonian newspaper on Monday that “the law is black and white.”

“You cannot discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation,” Thompson said.

Reporting by Courtney Sherwood; Editing by Eric M. Johnson and Peter Cooney