A Christian-run bakery in the US may have to pay $135,000 in damages for declining to provide a wedding cake for a same-sex couple.
Melissa and Aaron Klein, owners of Sweet Cakes by Melissa, turned down the order from lesbian couple Rachel Cryer and Laurel Bowman in 2013, saying they were trying to protect their religious conscience.
But Cryer and Bowman filed a complaint under Oregon’s equality laws in August last year, resulting in the Kleins facing investigation by the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries.
In January 2014, the bureau said it had found “substantial evidence of unlawful discrimination” in the case, and on Friday a judge recommended that the Kleins pay $135,000 in damages to the couple.
Both the Kleins and state officials can now review the fine and file exceptions before a final order is issued.
One of their lawyers, Anna Harmon, criticised the order.
She said: “This is a shocking result, which shows the state’s relentless campaign to punish Oregonians who live and work according to their faith”.
“Now the state of Oregon, through an administrative agency, has ordered that all they worked for should be taken away simply because they declined to participate in an event, which violated their religious beliefs.”
A crowd-funding webpage to support the Kleins was set up in response to the judge’s recommendation, and more than $100,000 was raised in less than eight hours.
But GoFundMe, which hosted the page, shut it down claiming that money was being raised for “illegal purposes”.
GoFundMe said the money will still be made available for withdrawal, and a new fund was set up by Christian charity Samaritan’s Purse to take donations.
The Kleins were forced to close their shop and operate from home soon after they turned down the cake order in 2013, following death threats and a boycott of the shop organised by homosexual rights activists.
Other wedding businesses in the area were threatened with boycotts if they worked with the Kleins’ shop.
Speaking at the time, Mr Klein said: “As a man of faith, I am in good spirits”, adding, “I’m happy to be serving the Lord and standing up for what’s right”.
He also said: “We’re struggling, but in the end, my faith is more important to me than a dollar. So I will continue to stand for what I believe in. And I don’t think anybody is ever going to force me to go against my religion.”
In Northern Ireland, a Christian-run bakery was taken to court last month for declining to decorate a pro-gay marriage campaign cake.
The Equality Commission claimed that Ashers Baking Company broke sexual orientation and political discrimination laws. A judgment has not yet been issued.