Opponents rally against Fayetteville anti-discrimination law

Oregon bakers used as example of business infringement

FAYETTEVILLE -- More than 200 people came to University Baptist Church on Tuesday for a "rally against religious persecution."

The rally was organized by Protect Fayetteville, a group advocating against passage of the city's Uniform Civil Rights Protection ordinance in a Sept. 8 special election.

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Two ballot question committees are advocating for and against passage of Fayetteville’s Uniform Civil Rights Protection ordinance in a Sept. 8 special election. They are:

For Fayetteville


Protect Fayetteville


Source: Staff Report

If approved, the ordinance will prohibit acts of discrimination in employment, housing and places of public accommodation based on someone's sexual orientation or gender identity.

Despite exemptions for churches and religious organizations, ordinance opponents say the law will still be used to compel business owners to provide service to gay customers whose lifestyle they find morally objectionable.

The featured speakers at Tuesday's rally used their story to illustrate the point.

Aaron and Melissa Klein, who run a bakery called Sweet Cakes by Melissa in Sandy, Ore., were asked in January 2013 to bake a cake for a lesbian wedding.

Aaron Klein refused.

"I apologized and said, 'I'm really sorry. I don't mean to waste your time. We don't do cakes for same-sex weddings,'" he recalled Tuesday. "We believe that marriage is between a man and a woman."

The lesbian couple, Rachel and Laurel Bowman-Cryer, quickly filed a complaint with the Oregon Department of Justice, according to state records. And on July 2, Brad Avakian, commissioner of the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries ordered the Kleins pay the Bowman-Cryers $135,000 in damages to compensate for the couple's emotional, mental and physical suffering.

Avakian ruled the Kleins violated the Oregon Equality Act of 2007, which guarantees all residents in the state equal access to places of accommodation without regard to their race, religion, gender, age or sexual orientation.

"This case is not about a wedding cake or a marriage," Avakian said in the July 2 ruling. "It is about a business's refusal to serve someone because of their sexual orientation. Under Oregon law, that is illegal."

The Kleins said Tuesday they're appealing the decision.

"We don't feel that God belongs on our coffee table at home," Melissa Klein said. "He goes everywhere with us."

Supporters of Fayetteville's Uniform Civil Rights Protection ordinance said before Tuesday's rally it's unfair to compare the Kleins' case to the local proposal.

"We really want to make sure that on Sept. 8, the voters in Fayetteville are voting on Fayetteville's ordinance and not on scary stories from laws in a faraway land," Kyle Smith, president of the group For Fayetteville, said Monday.

Smith noted Fayetteville's ordinance would only apply to businesses with nine or more employees. According to Aaron Klein, Sweet Cakes by Melissa had, at most, three workers.

A complaint could be filed under the Uniform Civil Rights Protection ordinance if a business owner refuses to serve a gay customer. But fines are capped at $100 for the first offense. Maximum fines for subsequent offenses would be $500.

"Our ordinance, I kind of hate to say it, but it's extremely weak in the way of penalties," City Attorney Kit Williams said Monday.

Danielle Weatherby, an assistant law professor at the University of Arkansas and an officer for the For Fayetteville campaign, also noted the Fayetteville ordinance doesn't give individuals an opportunity to file civil suits against private businesses.

There aren't any legal grounds currently for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender residents in Arkansas to file civil suits if they're fired from their job or denied housing because of their sexual orientation.

Under the Arkansas Civil Rights Act of 1993, an employer who fires someone because of his gender, race, religion or ethnicity can be forced to pay compensatory damages ranging from $15,000 to $300,000, depending on how many employees the company has. But, unlike in Oregon, no such standards exist for discrimination against someone because of his sexual orientation.

"You can't compare Oregon law to any other state's law and certainly not to our ordinance," Weatherby said. "It's like comparing apples and oranges."

Duncan Campbell, president of Protect Fayetteville, said Tuesday, despite some technical differences in the Oregon and Fayetteville laws, both measures' principals are the same.

"It's not fair to force someone to violate their conscience," Campbell said.

When Smith, Weatherby and two other people involved with the For Fayetteville campaign tried to approach Aaron and Melissa Klein at Tuesday's event, Wendy Campbell, secretary of the Protect Fayetteville campaign, asked the group to leave.

The Police Department was called and, eventually, the ordinance supporters left.

"We politely asked them to leave several times," Wendy Campbell told attendees Tuesday. "They kept pushing and pushing and pushing. ... That is the behavior of a bully."

Smith criticized Protect Fayetteville for hosting the Kleins.

"I think it's important that, rather than listening to stories from Oregon bakers shipped in from out of state, we listen to our local businesses," he said.

To date, more than 400 business representatives in Fayetteville have signed pledge cards saying they support the passage of the civil rights ordinance in the Sept. 8 special election.

NW News on 08/12/2015

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