Oregon bakers who declined same-sex wedding cake take their case to appeals court

Aaron and Melissa Klein, the owner of Sweet Cakes by Melissa, appear in a screen capture of a video from First Liberty. | YouTube/First Liberty

The owners of Sweet Cakes by Melissa, who were penalized for declining to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding, have taken their case to the Oregon Court of Appeals on Thursday.

Sweet Cakes owners Aaron and Melissa Klein argued that the Oregon Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian and the Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI) violated state and federal law by forcing them to pay a fine to the lesbian couple who ordered the cake, The Oregonian reported.

Their attorneys with the First Liberty Institute stated in their appeal that BOLI, an agency authorized to investigate and prosecute violations of the state's anti-discrimination laws, violated the couple's rights to free speech, religious freedom and their rights as defendants to a due process.

"The law cannot compel an architect to design a church," said Adam Gustafson, a lawyer with the law firm of C. Boyden Gray.

"It cannot compel a rabbi to marry a Christian and a Jew. To do otherwise would offend the conscience and the constitution. The bureau's order must be vacated for the same reasons. It compels protected speech ... and it burdens religious exercise," he continued.

Additionally, the lawyers highlighted the personally expressive nature of creating a custom-designed cake for an event like a wedding and argued that creating such designs is a form of speech that cannot be compelled.

Rachel and Laurel Bowman-Cryer, the lesbian couple, filed the complaint with BOLI in 2013 after Aaron turned down the order for a same-sex wedding cake because of his Christian convictions about marriage. The Kleins closed down their business in September that same year, according to World.

Avakian ordered the Kleins to pay $135,000 in damages to the lesbian couple after an administrative judge ruled that they have violated the state's anti-discrimination law in 2015.

The lawyers said that Avakian should have recused himself from the case as he had praised an LGBTQ advocacy group on Facebook before the hearing.

Although the Kleins already paid the fine, the Bowman-Cryers have not received the amount as it remains locked in escrow pending appeals. Aaron returned to his job as a garbage truck driver after the bakery closed. More than half a million dollars were donated to the bakers by people from across the country, but Aaron said it all went to legal fees.