The Sweetcakes Gay Wedding Cake Lawsuit

Yesterday an Oregon judge awarded a lesbian couple $135,000 in damages (for what is essentially mental anguish) after a bakery refused to bake them a wedding cake.  And for the second time in a week, the news was all abuzz with news stories predicting the impending collapse of American Christianity.

If you want to run around waiting on the sky to fall, don’t bother reading this.  If you want an honest and thorough evaluation of what happened in the lawsuit (complete with helpful little things like facts and links), then keep reading.

I just took the time to read 174 pages of the courts’ rulings in two separate proceedings about this case.  I’m going to provide links to the rulings, Oregon law, and break down what actually happened.

If you want to just be angry and shout at Facebook, go right ahead.  If you want to actually educate Yo’self, keep reading this.

Here are some of the undisputed facts of the case.

  • In October of 2012 Rachel Bowman-Cryer and Laurel Bowman-Cryer became engaged.
  • The bakery involved, Sweetcakes By Melissa, provided a cake for Rachel’s mother in 2010. (This was not a “set-up” as some people have surmised)
  • In January of 2013 Rachel and her mother went to Sweetcakes By Rachel to sample cakes for Rachel’s wedding.
  • When Sweetcakes found out that it would be a homosexual wedding, they informed Rachel that they would not provide her with a cake because they believed that homosexuality was a sin.

So how can this lawsuit even be filed?

Well, in Oregon homosexuality is lumped in with all of the other “protected classes” of people…  LINK  It is declared to be the public policy of Oregon that practices of unlawful discrimination against any of its inhabitants because of race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, national origin, marital status, age, disability or familial status are a matter of state concern and that this discrimination not only threatens the rights and privileges of its inhabitants but menaces the institutions and foundation of a free democratic state.

And since homosexuals are a protected class under Oregon’s civil rights laws, it’s illegal for a business to deny them service….  LINK  It is an unlawful practice for any person to deny full and equal accommodations, advantages, facilities and privileges of any place of public accommodation in violation of this section.

I want you to read that very carefully, because it’ll come into play later on….It’s illegal for a business to discriminate against homosexuals.

So based on the Oregon laws that say a business can’t deny services to homosexuals, Rachel and Lauren sued Sweetcakes.

The actual lawsuit was fairly straightforward.  The primary defense that Sweetcakes made is the same defense that I have been hearing since this lawsuit first surfaced over a year ago.  The owners of Sweetcakes argued that forcing them to bake a wedding cake for a homosexual marriage violated their religious beliefs by making them a party to the wedding.  (Those are my words.  Feel free to substitute “contribute to the wedding” or “become a partaker in their evil deeds” or whatever suits your fancy.)

Sweetcakes argued that forcing them to bake a cake for a homosexual wedding violated their first amendment right in two ways…It denied them the ability to freely practice their religion and it forced them to speak (endorse) things that they didn’t want to.  The court addressed both of those arguments and I’ll summarize their rulings individually.

In January of 2015 there was a hearing where a judge decided if all of parts of the lawsuit should be dismissed (summary judgment).  You can read the entire 52 page ruling from that hearing here.  The following references are from that link.

The court first referenced a related case wherein an employer was sued after he preached to his employees and they were offended.  In that case the court ruled in favor of the employer, because he believed that he was compelled to act in a certain way to practice his religion (to preach his beliefs to others under “any and all circumstances” or “he would be lost”).  Read that again…the court ruled in favor of the employer who was preaching to his employees.

The court went on the draw a distinction between the case of the preaching employer and the Sweetcakes case.  In the Sweetcakes case, the owners never argued that practicing their religion involved not making cakes for homosexuals.  They only argued that they believed homosexual marriages were wrong.  There is a difference there, and that difference is essentially why the case hinged on.

On Page 32 (lines 12-14) the court found that Respondents’ (Sweetcakes) refusal to make a wedding cake for Complainants (Rachel and Lauren) was not a “religious practice”, but conduct motivated by their “religious beliefs”. 

Sweetcakes never argued that baking a cake for a homosexual wedding was a violation of their religion, they just argued that they didn’t believe in homosexuality.

Considering the notion that Sweetcakes didn’t want to participate in the homosexual marriage, the court stated on Page 45 (lines 2-4) Respondents (Sweetcakes) were not asked to issue a marriage license, perform a wedding ceremony, or in any way legally recognize Complantants’ (Rachel and Lauren’s) planned same-sex wedding…..  

The court acknowledged what I’ve thought all along.  If Sweetcakes baked a cake for the homosexual wedding, it would not be viewed as Sweetcakes sanctioning the wedding, but rather as Sweetcakes complying with Oregon law (which again, said that they HAD to bake the cake).  A business baking a cake for the wedding is not the business sanctioning the wedding, it’s the business complying with the law.

Sidenote from I’mAGiver….  I’m of the opinion that it would be OK for a Christian to sell a wedding cake for a homosexual wedding.  But for those that disagree with me, how far are we willing to take that argument?  Can a painter not paint their house because they sinfully live in it together?  Can an A/C repair man not fix their air conditioner because they will enjoy the cool air together while committing sinful acts?  I personally agree with the Court’s ruling that participation by a business does not equate to approval of the business’ owners or employees.

And one other note of importance….  I’ve already heard lots of talk about how this will lead to preachers having to perform homosexual weddings.  But go back and read Page 45 people.  The court specifically said that this case was different than someone officiating the wedding.  And they would have ruled differently if it were.  So everybody slow your roll on that one.

In reference to the notion that Sweetcakes baking the cake was tantamount to the owners being forced to endorse things they didn’t want to (violating their freedom of speech), the Court used two arguments worth noting.

On Page 47 (line 1) through Page 48 (line 4) the Court references a case in which a homosexual group was denied the opportunity to participate in a parade (and the court said it was OK to exclude them).  The Court in the Sweetcakes case mentions that in a parade, homosexuals can be excluded because every participating unit affects the message conveyed.  The Court acknowledged that homosexuals participating in YOUR event could be viewed as you endorsing their behavior, but contrasted that with you providing a service in THEIR private event.

And I think the distinction is valid.  If I invite you to my event, I endorse you.  I am saying, “Hey, you’re a good guy and I want to be around you.”  But if I provide a service to your event, I’m not necessarily endorsing you.  I’m just saying, “Hey, I’m a widget maker and I sold you a widget.”

On Page 49 (lines 1-5) the Court says Unlike the laws at issue Wooley and Barnette, ORS 659A.403 (the Oregon law I provided a link to earlier) does not require Respondents (Sweetcakes) to recite or display any message.  It only mandates that if Respondents operate a business as a place of public accommodation, they cannot discriminate against potential clients based on their sexual orientation.  

The court makes the point that a bakery baking a cake for a homosexual wedding is not representative of the owner’s personal beliefs, but that it is representative of a business doing business.

These thoughts were echoed in the final ruling from July 2nd

On Page 30 (lines 13-19) the Court clarifies that Oregon’s laws restrict the BUSINESS, not the INDIVIDUAL.  To the contrary, the language of ORS 659A.409 focuses on the discriminatory effect that accompanies certain speech “published, circulated, issued or displayed” on behalf of a place of public accommodation, and its breadth is narrowly tailored to address the effects of the speech and issue.  

The law isn’t restricting how an individual exercises their religion.  It restricts how a business can behave in Oregon.

On Page 32 (lines 5-8) the Court does a very good job of summing up why this case was valid under Oregon law… This case is not about a wedding cake or a marriage.  It is about a business’ refusal to serve someone because of their sexual orientation.  Under Oregon law, that is illegal.  

And that’s what everyone needs to take a deep breath and understand.  What Sweetcakes did by refusing service to homosexuals was illegal in Oregon.

  • If it isn’t illegal where you live, don’t worry about it.
  • If you don’t like the law in Oregon or where you live, do something about it.  (And for the record, griping on Facebook doesn’t count as “doing something about it”.)
  • If you want to be mad, go ahead.  I don’t blame you.  But at least be mad about the right thing.  Be mad that in Oregon being a homosexual makes you part of a protected class.  It’s not like that everywhere and it’s something you need to protect your community from.

I know that the laws in Oregon (and elsewhere) seem really messed up.  But I’d refer you back to this link which defines what discrimination in Oregon is.  60% of that part of the law is providing protections to churches to be able to discriminate against people based on the beliefs of the church.

In Oregon a church can discriminate.  A preacher can discriminate.  But a business can’t.

One more sidebar and I’ll be done….

I’ve hear a lot of people say that a business owner should be allowed to refuse service to anyone.  But is that really the world we want to live in?  If you really believe that the world is in a death spiral of sin and despair and is getting worse and worse every year…..  Do you want those businesses to be able to discriminate against you?  I don’t.  Because if the world is really as bad as everyone says, and a business owner can discriminate at will, then I don’t know where my Christian grandkids will shop one day.

The anti-discrimination laws that are protecting homosexuals now (because they’re the minority) will one day be protecting Christians (when we’re the minority).

If you really want to be angry, be angry at the right thing…..That homosexuals are a protected class in Oregon.  Because that’s the real problem.  The ruling was completely in line with the law, the law is just stupid.

I drafted it last night and before I posted it today there was another round of chicken little articles in the media about a “gag order” placed on the owners of Sweetcakes.

So let’s talk about the “gag order”.

In Oregon it’s against the law to discriminate against people of a protected class.  And it’s also against the law to advertise that you’re going to discriminate against them.  And that’s what the “gag order” is all about.  The owners of Sweetcakes can’t say “I’m not going to bake cakes for gay weddings”.  But they CAN say “Gay weddings are wrong”, “Gay people are wrong”, “Providing wedding cakes to gay weddings is a sin”, or any sort of preachy statement like that.

The “gag order” DOES NOT prohibit the Sweetcakes folks from sharing their faith.  At all.

The “gag order” is found on Page 42 (line 23) to Page 43 (line 6) of this court order.  All it says is that the Sweetcakes owners have to stop running around saying “We’re gonna discriminate”.  It does nothing to keep them from preaching about their religious beliefs.

I’ve mentioned that I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a Christian providing sinners with services through his business.  I was going to explain that here, but 2K words later I think I need to end this beast of a post.

By early next week I’ll have another post up talking about what I believe about Christians business owners and why I believe it, along with arguments against verses commonly used by those who disagree with me.  If you’d like to be sure and see that post, submit your email address in the box at the top right of this screen or follow I’mAGiver’s Facebook page, also linked on the right side of this page.