Baker’s online remarks lead to debate over serving gay couples

An Oak Harbor baker’s comments about refusing to provide at least some services to gay people gave rise to a spirited online debate last week.

Patrick Christensen and his business partners hope to open Chris’ Bakery downtown this Friday. The business is a reboot of the popular bakery that closed its doors in 1998.

Just a week before opening, Christensen posted a story on his personal Facebook page about an Oregon couple who lost their business because they were sued for refusing to make a cake for a same-sex couple. Christiansen wrote comments in support of the couple, saying that there are certain cake decorations his bakery won’t be doing.

“Some of you will not agree with me, I am OK with that,” he wrote. “Thus, I hope you will let me put my opinion out there.”

In a long stream of comments that followed his post, some people chastised Christiansen for his stance, but many others supported him. Some of the debate became heated.

At least a couple of people vowed to never buy anything at the bakery.

“I’m not one for boycotting businesses either,” one Coupeville resident wrote. “But word will definitely get around. And even in more conservative Oak Harbor, there is a large group of people, many who would be thrilled to support a local bakery versus Albertsons, who will not agree with this move.”

A retired Navy chief responded as well. He said gay people aren’t minorities, but rather being gay is a “sexual preference.”

“Any business should have the ‘right to refuse service to anyone,’” he commented. “It’s not discrimination!”

The Washington State Supreme Court disagrees.

Last month, the high court ruled that a Richland florist violated an anti-discrimination law by refusing service to a couple because they were having a same-sex wedding.

Christensen said he was unaware of the high court decision and that case.

In an interview Monday, Christensen wasn’t crystal clear about his stance on the issue. He said everyone will be welcome in his business, but there are certain kinds of cakes that the bakery will “probably not” make.

The issue is not clear, he said, though, because his business partners and cake decorator will also have a voice in such decisions.

“It would really be a case-by-case decision,” he said.

In a comment he posted, Christensen suggested that he will simply tell someone that he was too busy to do the job if asked to make something that goes against his religious beliefs.

Refusing to serve same-sex weddings and mixed-sex weddings equally would constitute a violation of the state law against discrimination and the state Supreme Court’s recent ruling, according to Peter Lavallee, communications director for the state Attorney General’s Office.

It would also constitute a “per se violation of the Consumer Protection Act, subjecting the business to potential civil penalties,” Lavallee said.

Doug Honig, communications director for the ACLU, said a baker would be committing unlawful discrimination if Christiansen refused to decorate a cake in the same way for a gay couple as he would a heterosexual couple. In essence, he said, businesses aren’t allowed to discriminate against people because they are part of a protected class.

Christensen said he’s surprised his comments caused a ruckus online. His intent, he explained, was to express support for a small business.

Everyone should support businesses, and the government should get out of the way and not interfere with commerce, he said.

Still, Christiansen said he was glad to spark a discussion and get people thinking. He said he doesn’t fear a backlash for his comments, though he added he believes people are too easily offended nowadays and closed minded when it comes to other opinions.

“I’m actually happy that I have so many friends on Facebook that have views on both sides,” he said.

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