In 2013, Aaron and Melissa Klein of Melissa’s Sweet Cakes Bakery refused to provide a cake for the wedding of Rachel and Laura Bowman-Crower.
The Kleins, whose “Signature Cake Menu” includes a mudslide cake soaked in vodka and Kahlua, believed providing three layers of white cake slathered with sugared Crisco for a gay wedding reception would conflict with their religious beliefs.
The Bowman-Crowers believed the refusal conflicted with Oregon’s anti-discrimination laws. A lawsuit followed.
Ultimately, the courts sided with the Bowman-Crowers and ordered the Kleins to pay $150,000 in damages — enough to buy 336 average-priced wedding cakes from bakers less concerned about the sexual orientation of their customers.
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It may surprise some readers to learn I think the Kleins have a right to tell customers, “I’m sorry, but we believe any couple wrapping their lips around one of our vodka-soaked Kahlua Mudslide cakes should contain exactly one mildly-inebriated man and one insulin-resistant woman.”
Here’s why. Let’s say you own a business. And let’s say that for some reason — maybe because of your faith, or maybe just because you’re just a hateful person — you don’t want to do business with me.
If that’s how you feel, please tell me. I want to know — but not so I can sue you.
I want to know because I don’t want to contribute one penny of my hard-earned money to your prosperity. Further, I want to use every legal means available to me — from blog posts to spiteful Yelp reviews to fabulous public protests on the sidewalk in front of your store — to persuade anyone and everyone to purchase their alcohol-soaked baked goods elsewhere.
This approach allows you to live by your convictions and me to live by mine. On a strictly personal level, I find this arrangement deeply satisfying.
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The Sweet Cakes story, however, has implications beyond the personal.
When the owners of one fundamentalist Christian bakery refuse to make cakes for one gay wedding, that’s one thing. But the next thing you know, a Baptist minister is posting “No Gays Allowed” signs in the windows of his hardware store in Grainger County, Tennessee.
So what do we get when everyone starts refusing service to customers with different beliefs? A fundamentalist Christian Wendy’s that won’t sell a Baconator to a same-sex couple? A Jewish-owned Sharper Image that won’t sell bourbon-dispensing golf clubs to Baptists? Atheist-owned winter apparel shops that won’t sell Bluetooth Phone Gloves to people of faith?
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An America where every shop has a sign out front listing the beliefs required to shop there is not a better America.
We’ve been down this road before. In the Deep South, restaurants, cinemas, and shops for “Whites Only” were once part of every day life. Eventually, we decided society would be better off if black people weren’t treated like second-class citizens.
Some people disagreed with that decision (some for reasons of faith, and some out of ignorance and bigotry). But even so, today you’ll no longer see “Whites Only” Cracker Barrels and tanning salons in the South. (Well, maybe a few “Whites Only” Cracker Barrels — but, I mean, what do you expect from a place called the *Cracker* Barrel?)
This year, the nation once again reached a tipping point: we decided our society is better off if gay relationships aren’t treated like second-class marriages.
Predictably, some people disagree with that decision (some for reasons of faith, and some out of ignorance and bigotry). Even so, gay people can get married today. And in states like Oregon, cities have also passed anti-discrimination laws that say gay couples can have their cakes, and eat them, too — whatever the baker believes about gay marriage.
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My heart goes out to business owners who no longer see their deeply-held beliefs reflected in the law. I know what that feels like, because the law didn’t reflect my own deeply-held beliefs for fifty of my fifty-one years on the planet.
But, until it changes, the law is the law. Today, you can’t bar entire sections of the population from accessing your services just because their beliefs differ from your own. If you oppose gay marriage and you’re in a business that supports marriages in general (by issuing licenses, say, or baking cakes), you have three choices:
1) get out of that business, or
2) raise the price of your cakes to $150,000 each to cover the legal fees and fines that will become part of the price of doing business your way, or
3) wrap your head around the idea that it’s okay for other adults to have beliefs that differ from yours, and soldier on.
Remember, too, that while refusing to bake cakes for same-sex couples may be illegal, your freedoms of speech and religion are intact. If you suspect a customer favors gay marriage, you’re within your rights to say:
“As you know, the law requires us to provide cakes for any wedding, whatever the sexual orientation of the participants — and we will abide by that law. Because of our personal beliefs, though, we’re compelled to tell you that our cakes are baked in a 350-degree oven — only a fraction as hot as the place we believe gay couples will be spending eternity together. Now, which option suits you best: the pink champagne cream or the fantasy fruit cake?”
This strategy could allow you to abide by the law and be true to your beliefs — though in short order your appointment book may be as just clear as your conscience.