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Gay activist’s campaign to show Christian love to Oregon bakers falls flat

Wedding cake with groom figures on top.
Wedding cake with groom figures on top.

Photo courtesy of Ivonne Wierink via Shutterstock

Wedding cake with groom figures on top.

(RNS) An unconventional crowdfunding campaign to show Christian love by donating money to bakery owners who declined to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding has proved to be a challenge for one gay Christian.

Matt Stolhandske, a board member of the newly created Evangelicals for Marriage Equality, wrote a Washington Post op-ed Oct. 17 asking others to join him in raising funds for Melissa and Aaron Klein, Portland-based Christian bakery owners who, in 2013, declined to bake a cake for a lesbian couple’s wedding. Stolhandske wrote that he knew the campaign would generate “shouts from progressive and gay friends.”

“I am not rewarding their behavior, but rather loving them in spite of it,” wrote Stolhandske, a gay Christian advocate who has worked on international development projects. “It is time for these two communities, which both cite genuine love as our motivation, to put aside our prejudices and put down our pitchforks to clear the path for progress.”

But the campaign has generated only $4,279 of its $150,000 goal since mid-October.

The idea was unwelcome from both gay activists and those who oppose same-sex marriage. His activism was a conflict of interest given his work with Evangelicals for Marriage Equality, Eliel Cruz wrote for The Advocate.

“You cannot serve on a board for marriage equality, then financially support someone who wants the right to refuse service to LGBT people,” Cruz wrote. It’s full equality or none at all.”

The move was a publicity stunt, wrote Eric Teetsel, executive director of the Manhattan Declaration project, which works to preserve traditional marriage.

“It seemed obvious to me that the right, and truly Christian course, would be to stick up for the fundamental freedom of religion and conscience,” Teetsel wrote on Facebook.

A total of 334 donors participated in the campaign, most pledging $10 to $25 each.

“While I am disappointed that we did not meet our admittedly aggressive financial objective, I’m encouraged by the outpouring of support from Christians all over the world who joined me in extending an olive branch to the family,” Stolhandske wrote in an email. “This fundraiser wasn’t singularly focused on raising money: I also wanted to send the Kleins a message of kindness and compassion in an effort to change the tenor of our faithful conversation about marriage equality from one of intolerance to one of love.”

Stolhandske said the Kleins will receive the money soon. “We have made initial effort to reach out to them and as soon as those logistics are straightened out, we will stop the campaign where it is and transfer over the funds,” he said.

The state has not levied a fine against the Kleins, said Anna Harmon, a lawyer representing the bakery owners.

Harmon said she wasn’t sure Stolhandske had approached the Kleins about the campaign.

The lesbian couple suing the owners alleged that the Kleins’ decision not to bake a cake for their same-sex wedding ceremony caused them physical, emotional and mental damages in the amount of at least $75,000 each (totaling $150,000). Damages could be awarded to the couple if the Kleins do not win their trial set to start March 10.

The bakery closed in 2013.

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About the author

Sarah Pulliam Bailey

Sarah Pulliam Bailey is a national correspondent for RNS, covering how faith intersects with politics, culture and other news. She previously served as online editor for Christianity Today where she remains an editor-at-large.

20 Comments

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  • Ah. The cake thing again. I still don’t get why you’d WANT to employ a homophobic baker. Why not patronize an LGBT-friendly baker instead, one WORTHY of your dollars?? This is the age of the internet, you can find a baker to fit your needs within a few minutes.

    It’s not like destroying a homophobe’s business with a lawsuit is going to magically turn them into an Ally. It’s only making the homophobes more angry and more homophobic, and turning off people who might otherwise be supportive of LGBT rights.

  • Not all areas have LGBT-friendly bakers to patronize. Do you think people who are getting married want to concern themselves with whether the butcher, the baker, the candle-stick maker, the tailor and the janitor personally approve of their relationship? They just want them to shut up and do their jobs.

    “and turning off people who might otherwise be supportive of LGBT rights.”

    Concern Troll is concerned? You’ve got to hold back a bit, show some restraint. Don’t blow your cover!

  • Because you don’t know they are homophobic before they start to act all nasty and malicious to a customer. Nor can you tell if they advertise to the general public or have a store open for anyone to walk in.

    The homophobes are destroying their own business by engaging in activities which are against the local laws and acting badly in public. Segregating the marketplace based on bigotry is bad for all businesses.

  • “Not all areas have LGBT-friendly bakers to patronize”

    That’s really not true with the internet existing and a now-majority of people in the US supporting Gay Marriage. Give me any city and I bet I can find someone willing to deliver a cake for a gay couple there. All you’ll get from forcing the homophobes to do it is a cake full of spit.

    “Concern Troll is concerned?”

    No, that’s just the kind of [expletive deleted] paranoid conspiracy theories the religious right spews. They often complain that if gay marriage is legalized, it effects them personally, since they will be forced to participate in it. We should NOT be proving these [expletive deleted] right.

  • “Because you don’t know they are homophobic before they start to act all nasty and malicious to a customer.”

    You know once they refuse services. Once they’ve revealed themselves as a homophobe why continue??

    This is like the exact opposite thing as the Chick-Fil-A incident. When the owner of that chain revealed himself as a homophobe, he was justly boycotted. People refused to do services with the homophobe or support his business in any way. So why now when this random baker reveals themselves to be homophobic, are people /demanding/ the opportunity to do business with and support that business?

  • By then they have already violated local anti-discrimination acts.
    You are looking at this from the wrong perspective. Once the homophobe business has denied the customer, the customer no longer is expecting the services. It stops becoming a matter of getting served and more a matter of seeking damages for such conduct.

    Like any fine for business misconduct or damages rewarded in a tort lawsuit, the intention is to show that some behavior cannot be tolerated and brings penalties for continuing it. There are personal views and there are ways of doing business. The two do not have to be related.

    Chick-Fil-A never violated anti-discrimination laws when it came to customers. They never said that they would not serve gay customers. They also tended to settle out of court for employment related mayhem.

  • “The state has not levied a fine against the Kleins, said Anna Harmon, a lawyer representing the bakery owners.”

    “The lesbian couple suing the owners alleged that the Kleins’ decision not to bake a cake for their same-sex wedding ceremony caused them physical, emotional and mental damages in the amount of at least $75,000 each (totaling $150,000). Damages could be awarded to the couple if the Kleins do not win their trial set to start March 10.”

    This is not a fine, it is a lawsuit.

  • Which is why I mentioned “damages in a tort lawsuit”.

    In many states/localities business discrimination is a civil tort not a criminal violation. As you see, the lesbian couple is not asking the Kleins bake a cake for them at this point but are seeking damages for the untoward behavior.

  • One wanders what the reaction of this Lesbian couple would have been if the baker had a sign indicating that any money payed for a SSM ceremony will go directly to a fund for the defense of traditional marriage.

    “Viva Cristo Rey!!”
    DHS

  • Ah. The racial equality thing again. I still don’t get why you’d WANT to employ a homophobic restaurant owner. Why not patronize an racial equality-friendly restaurant instead, one WORTHY of your dollars?? This is the age of the internet, you can find a restaurant to fit your needs within a few minutes (just look for the sign “black only”).

    It’s not like destroying a racist’s business with a lawsuit is going to magically turn them into an Ally. It’s only making the racists more angry and more racist, and turning off people who might otherwise be supportive of racial equality.

    Ah. The Jewish thing again. I still don’t get why you’d WANT to employ a anti-Semitic baker. Why not patronize an Jew friendly baker instead, one WORTHY of your dollars?? This is the age of the internet, you can find a restaurant to fit your needs within a few minutes (just look for the one without the swastika).

    It’s not like destroying a anti-Semite’s business with a lawsuit is going to magically turn them into an Ally. It’s only making the anti-Semite more angry and more anti-Semitic, and turning off people who might otherwise be supportive of Jewish people.

    A nauseating perspective no matter what group you plug into it.

  • They wouldn’t have even visited that baker, would they?

    And Viva christo Rey? You mean the jesus that sat to dinner with prostitues and tax collectors! That Jesus?

    BTW, they’re not defending traditional marriage, they are attacking gay marriage. you don’t defend marriage by attacking people who want to be married. There is not a single heterosexual marriage in the world that my marriage attacks or that will benefit from my being denied marriage.

    The very statement that traditional marriage must be defended from me will be true when I propose laws to ban traditional marriage.

  • This is a ridiculous argument. So now the internet makes “separate but equal” somehow OK?

    The point is not to make the discriminatory business person into a potential ally or less angry. It is to give them and others pause when the next time they decide their personal prejudices are more important than doing business to the general public. To force them to stifle their prejudices in public for the sake of doing the job they hold themselves out as being available to the public.

  • “That’s really not true with the internet existing and a now-majority of people in the US supporting Gay Marriage.”

    Only if you are assuming:

    1. People proclaim their prejudices to the general public in their advertising and store.

    2. The act of discrimination in business is considered legally OK

    The problem with such arguments are that one is really calling for segregation in business. Discrimination in business is a public harm. It ties up free commerce based on arbitrary prejudices. The need for someone to express their animosity to others is not a great enough interest in comparison to keeping businesses open to the public, serving the public.

    If your beliefs are so overwhelming that you are incapable of serving the general public in your profession, don’t advertise in public. Do work by word of mouth, private membership or through selective venues. Don’t advertise online in general listings, don’t have a big storefront where anyone can just walk in. If that is too difficult or not economically sustainable, tough luck. Such “serious convictions” come at a price and require personal sacrifice.

  • Well, gee whiz, Frank.

    where are all the good Christians (TM) donating to this campaign to save the endangered bigot bakers?

    did you send a donation? If not, why not? Or does your religious bigotry only extend as far as statements on RNS about dem eeeeeeevilllll gays?

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