WASHINGTON — Christian wedding vendors who decline to provide services for same-sex ceremonies have suffered another legal setback.
The Oregon Court of Appeals ruled Dec. 28 that the state did not violate the First Amendment rights of Aaron and Melissa Klein in a 2015 order that included a $135,000 fine. The three-judge panel upheld a decision by the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI) that found the Kleins’ refusal to design and bake a cake for a lesbian couple’s commitment ceremony was based on unlawful discrimination against homosexuals.
The ruling against the Kleins is the latest in a growing number of opinions against wedding service providers — including cake designers, florists, and photographers — who conscientiously object to participating in same-sex ceremonies. One of those cases reached the U.S. Supreme Court in early December when the justices heard oral arguments in an appeal by a Colorado cake designer who refused to create a cake celebrating a same-sex couple’s wedding. The high court is expected to issue a decision before it adjourns in late June or early July.
Kelly Shackelford, president of First Liberty Institute, which is representing the couple, said the three-judge Oregon panel decided the Kleins “are not entitled to the Constitution’s promises of religious liberty and free speech.”
“Freedom of expression for ourselves should require freedom of expression for others,” Shackelford said in a written statement. “In a diverse and pluralistic society, people of good will should be able to peacefully coexist with different beliefs.”
Nancy Marcus, senior attorney for Lambda Legal, which is advocating for the lesbian couple, said the decision is “unsurprising because it is consistent with decisions by courts across the country that have similarly refused to create a new constitutional right of businesses to exempt themselves from civil rights laws and harm same-sex couples through discriminatory denials of service.”
The case began in 2013 when the Kleins declined a request by Laurel Bowman to bake a cake for her ceremony with Rachel Cryer.