The Oregon official who ordered the former owners of Sweet Cakes by Melissa to pay $135,000 in damages for refusing to make a cake for a same-sex wedding lost to a Republican in his bid for Oregon secretary of state.
Brad Avakian, commissioner of the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries and a staunch Democrat, lost in the race to Dennis Richardson, a conservative. The result is historic, ending a 20-year stronghold of Democrat control over statewide offices.
“The people of Oregon have spoken,” Aaron Klein, co-owner of Sweet Cakes by Melissa, told The Daily Signal. “Hopefully with the guy that won, we’ll see religious freedom start to grow in this state.”
Avakian garnered national attention for ordering Aaron and Melissa Klein, former owners of Sweet Cakes by Melissa in Gresham, Oregon, to pay thousands of dollars in damages to the same-sex couple whom they refused to serve because of their religious beliefs about marriage. In this year’s elections, Avakian was the only candidate to be defeated by a Republican.
Avakian has served as the commissioner of the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries since 2008. In Oregon, he’s known for pushing a progressive agenda. His opponent, Richardson, is a conservative who’s against gay marriage and abortion, according to reports.
The Kleins’ case became emblematic of the conflict between same-sex marriage and religious liberty, which surfaced after the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in 2015. The Kleins have since been forced to shut down their business.
Laurel and Rachel Bowman-Cryer, the couple pursuing charges against the Kleins, have attempted to keep a low-profile throughout the discrimination case. In September, however, they broke their silence in a commentary for The Advocate.
“At every step of the way, we have felt guilt and humiliation at seeing our name used by the right to justify discrimination,” they wrote. “Our family has been caught in the middle. The human cost to this battle is real to us because we are living it.”
The Kleins, too, say their family has suffered both financially and emotionally.
“We’re still dealing with some hate mail here and there,” Aaron said. “In fact, we just got some a couple weeks ago.”
Aaron provided a copy of the email to The Daily Signal, which reads, “I hope all your children die you inbred piece of s–t :-).”
“What did my kids ever do to you?” Aaron asked.
Aaron, who got a job as a garbage man after the family bakery was forced to shut down, said that between Avakian’s defeat and President-elect Donald Trump winning the national election, he’s hopeful the country will see “some of the sanity brought back to the federal court system.”
“It does look like we might have a chance at religious freedom in this country in the long run,” he said.