SCOTUS To Hear Case With Potential Impact On Oregon LGBT Protections

Dec 4, 2017

The nation’s highest court will consider a case Tuesday that advocates say could have reverberations in Oregon’s LGBT community. 

The Supreme Court will hear a case involving a Denver cake shop owner who refused to sell a wedding cake to a gay couple because of his religious beliefs. At issue is whether free speech and religious liberties outweigh LGBT protections, a challenge that could have both federal and state implications.

“This is a very big issue,” said P.K. Runkles-Pearson, who filed an amicus brief on behalf of a lesbian couple involved in a nearly identical case in Oregon. “It’s not really about cakes and it’s not really about religious freedom; it’s about the integrity of our anti-discrimination laws.”

Advocates say the Supreme Court case challenges Oregon’s public accommodation non-discrimination laws, which protect LGBT people from being refused service or entry to public places because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. The law applies in places such as retail stores, restaurants, parks, hotels, doctors’ offices and banks.

Earlier this year, the Bureau of Labor and Industries ordered Aaron and Melissa Klein, owners of the now-shuttered bakery Sweet Cakes by Melissa in Gresham, Oregon, to pay a $135,000 fine for refusing to make a wedding cake for a lesbian couple.

The Kleins appealed the fine in March, arguing that they were exercising their freedom of religion. That case is now held up in Oregon’s Court of Appeals. 

“Oregon is one of 19 states that has protections in public accommodations for sexual orientation and gender identity through our Oregon Equality Act, and we would be a state that would lose those protections,” said Amy Hertzfeld-Copple, executive director of Basic Rights Oregon.

In September, First Liberty, the group representing the Kleins, filed a friend of the court briefing in the Denver case before the Supreme Court. Lawyers argued it’s yet another example of a state compelling business owners to violate their religious beliefs by commemorating same-sex marriages.

“This case is not about providing a neutral service to a patron,” said Mat Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel in a statement. “It is about forced participation and promotion of a same-sex ceremony when that event, which is infused with a message, collides with a person’s conscious.”

Lawyers for the Kleins say they have not been given a timeline for a decision on their appeal.

Copyright 2017 Oregon Public Broadcasting