Sweet Cakes by Melissa Didn’t Just Deny a Lesbian Couple Service, They Also Doxxed Them and Their Kids

While reading Doug Wilson’s blog, I came upon this:

Now these very nice Christian people have for a number of years been dismissed as brim-full-o-hate, and their carefully chosen words of love and moral concern are always dismissed as mere hypocrisy. People in this class are fined megabucks for politely declining to bake the cake. “No, thank you.” That’s just the worst, capable of causing over seventy forms of trauma in lesbians made out of rice paper.

Let’s set some facts straight, shall we? First, here’s some background:

The controversy began in January 2013 when the Kleins turned away Rachel Cryer and Laurel Bowman from their bakery, saying that providing a cake for their wedding would have violated their Christian beliefs against same-sex marriage.

In August 2013, the women complained to the state Bureau of Labor and Industries. The agency conducted an investigation and in January 2014 brought charges that the Kleins had unlawfully discriminated against the couple because of their sexual orientation.

Oregon law bans discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in jobs and in places that serve the public, such as restaurants and bakeries.

Oregon has a nondiscrimination ordinance. What the Kleins did, in refusing to bake a simple wedding cake for the Bowman-Cryers, was against the law. As should always happen when a business breaks the law, the Bowman-Cryers filed a complaint first with the Department of Justice and then with the Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI). That agency then opened the investigation, and ultimately found enough evidence to bring charges.

Over two years after they were refused a cake, the Bowman-Cryers were awarded a total of $135,000, to be paid by the Kleins.

The BOLI Final Order awards $60,000 in damages to Laurel Bowman-Cryer and $75,000 in damages to Rachel Bowman-Cryer for emotional suffering stemming directly from unlawful discrimination. The amounts are damages related to the harm suffered by the Complainants, not fines or civil penalties which are punitive in nature.

The Final Order notes that the non-economic damages are consistent with the agency’s previous orders, such as an earlier ruling against a Bend dentist In the Matter of Andrew W. Engle. In that case, BOLI awarded a Christian employee $325,000 in damages for physical, mental and emotion suffering due to religious discrimination and harassment.

You can read the final ruling here. The information outlined in the ruling makes it clear that the Bowman-Cryers suffered emotionally as a result of the refusal and the subsequent media attention. And the refusal wasn’t as polite as Wilson claims it was—the Kleins quoted Leviticus at them. Rachel was sent into a spiral of anxiety and depression and Laurel was at a loss as to how to both help her and care for their two foster children. (If you still think this sounds ridiculous, read the final ruling.) Their wedding went forward, but the discrimination they had faced hung over it.

But that was not all the couple suffered

Laurel Bowman-Cryer filed a complaint in January 2013, but because she filed it online on her smartphone she was not shown the disclaimer informing her that the complaint, including her name and address, would be sent to the individual against whom it was being made. When Aaron Klein received the complaint, he immediately published it on his Facebook page in full, with Laurel’s name and address included.

That’s right, the Kleins doxxed the Bowman-Cryers.

In testimony Tuesday, Rachel Bowman-Cryer said she and her wife received death threats as media attention and criticism from strangers escalated in the months after the story went national in January 2013.

She said the threats were part of a stream of “hateful, hurtful things” that came after the couple’s contact information (home address, phone and email) was posted on Aaron Klein’s personal Facebook page. She said she feared for her life and her wife’s life.

And it’s worse even than that, because the couple had foster children.

Also on Tuesday, Rachel Bowman-Cryer disclosed that she and Laurel felt an even greater level of stress because they were foster parents for two young girls and feared they might lose the children.

She said they spoke to state adoption officials who told them it was the couple’s responsibility to protect the children and keep privileged information confidential, even as their own privacy was threatened by news coverage of the case.

State officials told the Bowman-Cryers that if they couldn’t protect the foster children in their home from the harassment that resulted from the Klein’s public posting of their home address, etc., they would lose the children—the children they were trying to adopt. Can you say stressful?!

Attempts to downplay what the Bowman-Cryers went through (calling them “rice paper lesbians,” etc.) ignore what the Bowman-Cryers ignores the gravity of what the couple suffered. The $135,000 ultimately awarded in damages was only for the suffering resulting from the initial refusal (which the commissioner found continued throughout the period of media attention), but this was not the sum of what the couple experienced at the hands of the Kleins. The simple complaint they lodged resulted in a media firestorm brought with it death threats, harassment, and the possibility of losing their children.

A week after the story hit the media, the Bowman-Cryers’ lawyer sent out a press release stating that the Bowman-Cryers would not be doing any interviews, and that they they only had need of the support of their local community. The press release stated that any donations should go to Pride Northwest and asked everyone to respect their privacy. In other words, the Bowman-Cryers did everything they could not to involve the national media or national gay rights organizations. In fact, the press released asked that even their names not be printed. The Bowman-Cryers were not involved in local protest and boycott efforts.

In contrast to the Bowman-Cryers’ desire to keep the case quiet and private, the Kleins went on a host of media outlets across the country and soon became the darlings of the anti-gay movement. The Kleins have said that they and their children have also faced death threats. If this is true (as it very likely is), it is very wrong, and is completely indefensible. It is also not the fault of the Bowman-Cryers, who neither doxxed the Kleins nor sought media coverage. (I may write a later post about why we shouldn’t harass bigots.)

The next time you see someone upset about that nice baker couple Oregon ordered to pay $135,000 to that spiteful thin-skinned lesbian couple, let them know that that nice baker couple doxxed the lesbian couple and very nearly cost them custody of their two children as a result. And then send them a copy of the court’s final ruling.

Related Article: The Truth about the Sweet Cakes Bakery Gag Order.

Note: This article has been edited slightly to reflect the fact that while the suffering the Kleins faced as a result of the doxxing and media coverage factored into the case and is reflected in the final ruling the $135,000 in damages was awarded solely for suffering resulting from the initial refusal. 

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About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.