Gresham Wedding Cake Controversy Sparks Community Action, Surprising Benefits, Unexpected Allies

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By Nick Mattos, PQ Monthly

Queer rights advocates locally and nationally were incensed to hear that Sweet Cakes by Melissa, a Gresham bakery, refused to create a wedding cake for a lesbian couple celebrating their union late last month. Since then, however, the controversy has resulted in several interesting — and at times surprising — benefits for the couple, local businesses, and for the queer community at large: Huge Show of Support for Couple The couple — who are by the advice of their attorney not currently speaking with the media — have received a huge amount of community support by those who identify with their plight. On Tuesday, advocacy group Equality Southwest Washington offered to provide an entire wedding at no cost to the couple. Additionally, after hearing news of the controversy, Ace of Cakes star Duff Goldman volunteered to provide the couple with one of his strikingly sculptural wedding cakes free of charge. While the couple is currently weighing out their cake options, PQ will report on the identity of the chosen baker as soon as information becomes available. Increased Sales at Local Bakeries While the Portland Tribune reports that Sweet Cakes by Melissa had their "busiest and most profitable day in nearly five years" shortly after the story broke, other local bakeries have also found that their business has increased since the controversy made headlines — in part due to customers choosing to patronize cake shops that support equality. "“Business has been really good," notes Debbie Phillips, owner of nearby Bella Cupcake. "It’s quite steady anyway, but we’ve seen a little surge. We have had some customers come in and say that they’re in the shop because we are all-inclusive and don’t discriminate.†While Phillips is a strong supporter of marriage equality and LGBTQ causes, ultimately she sees it as a simpler issue: “While we do have the right to refuse service," she explains, "I wouldn’t do so because someone behaves differently than I do.†Another nearby baker has observed the attention upon Sweet Cakes by Melissa may be helping her business as well. "I got my first international order right after the story broke," says Susan Pender, owner of Flutterby Bakery. "I thought that was very interesting." Community Action Planned Community members have mobilized to oppose Sweet Cakes by Melissa and show support for the couple. The Facebook event "Boycott Sweet Cakes by Melissa" currently lists 104 attendees and 36 "maybes;" another similar event, "Protest at Sweet Cakes by Melissa," lists 12 attendees and 8 "maybes." Both events "I am not a Christian," explains host of the "Boycott" event Rachelle Murphy, "but I am strongly against this protest turning into a religious protest." She continues:

I want this to be a peaceful, family friendly protest that brings people together... and that includes our Christian allies. [I want it to be an event] where everyone can put their differences aside and celebrate [that] Oregon has a law in place that protects these women from discrimination. No more, no less. Because honestly, in this case... that is all that matters.
The protest is scheduled for 2 PM this Saturday, with protesters congregating in front of Sweet Cakes by Melissa (44 NE Division St., Gresham). The Facebook event invites currently list that protesters will make their way to Bella Cupcake around 4 PM; however, during a phone interview with PQ Bella Cupcake owner Phillips confirmed that her shop closes at 4 PM on Saturdays, and not at 6 PM as noted on the protest's invitation. Unexpected Allies Emerge Many allies from local religious communities have stepped forth to speak out in support of the couple in their plight — including some rather unexpected voices. "I don't believe that they should have been denied the right to have the cake made," says the Reverend Levis Harris of Pauline Memorial African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church in Salem. "I don't believe that was appropriate." The Reverend, whose denomination has outspokenly opposed marriage equality for LGBTQ individuals, feels that Sweet Cakes by Melissa were not acting in line with how Christians should behave when doing business. "I think that really needs to be looked at from the aspect of whether that was a Godly thing to do; I don't believe that they should have been denied the right to purchase a cake." Another local religious leader considers the situation from both an economic and a spiritual angle. “If you’re doing business, refusing it doesn’t make any sense," observed Ksetrajna Dasa, who oversees the 82nd Avenue Temple of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (commonly known as the Hare Krishnas). "Your private beliefs and your private life are secondary to serving the public. They could be doing all manner of things that you don’t support or agree with, but if you’re doing business you serve everyone." Dasa — who, with his wife Mahabhagavata Devi Dasi, also runs a wedding cake bakery called Krishna's Cakes out of the temple — goes on to explain that the idea of comes from a fundamental misapprehension of one's responsibilities, both economic and spiritual:
We’re not the police. We’re not in the business of policing other people’s activities. We can say ‘this is the way,’ but everyone’s already on the path out of the material world – everyone’s trying for the eternal happiness that the soul wants to feel. Nobody actually understands the path of how to achieve that. If I tell you ‘don’t do this,’ you may do it or you may not do it, but I’m in no position to order you not to do it. It’s up to you to decide. You have your own path to achieve a peaceful situation in this world so you can apply your attention to getting out of the material world. Refusing business to you doesn’t help me and doesn’t help you. It doesn’t make any sense! I’m on the path of doing business, you’re on the path that you’ve chalked out in your life — is it any business of mine to tell you not to do it?
How else have you seen this controversy proven to be a positive thing for individuals and the community at large? Let us know your positive take on things in the comments!