Two women who were refused a wedding cake by Tastries Bakery owner Cathy Miller because they were marrying each other say they plan to pursue legal action.
Eileen and Mireya Rodriguez-Del Rio talked Thursday about their experiences at Tastries and why they believe they have to fight back against her discrimination.
Their life has been a whirlwind of media inquiries, support from family and friends, nasty Facebook messages from people across the nation and unexpected attention.
They say they didn’t ask for any of it. They could just walk away and let it all die down.
But they won’t.
“Because it’s not right,” Eileen said in the couple's first media interview. “What she did to us was not right. Nobody should have to go through what we had to.”
Businesses are prohibited from discriminating against people based on their sexual orientation under California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act.
Whitney Weddell, a leader in the Bakersfield LGBTQ community, said the Department of Fair Employment and Housing — which enforces the Unruh Act — has already contacted the couple.
And they are talking to the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Center for Lesbian Rights about their legal options, she said.
“We expect that we will exhaust every legal strategy,” Weddell said.
Miller, contacted by phone and email Thursday, declined to comment for this story.
Eileen Del-Rio and Mireya Rodriguez began dating two years ago, fell in love and got married.
But they never had a traditional wedding party.
So they have planned a big December ceremony, complete with officiant and vows.
They were missing a cake.
On Aug. 17, they checked out Tastries on Rosedale Highway and were very pleased.
The prices were good, the tastings free and the service great, so the couple signed up for a tasting appointment on Aug. 26.
When they got there the employee they had been working with whispered in Mireya’s ear that her boss would be taking over the tasting.
Then they met Cathy Miller.
She took them to a seat in the back of the shop, said Margaret Del Rio, Eileen’s mother, who was with them.
Miller immediately started asking them questions they had already answered when they set up the tasting, Eileen said.
When she pointed that out, Eileen said, Miller said she was taking the information down and would transfer their cake to her competitor Stephanie at Gimme Some Sugar.
They asked why.
“She said, ‘I don’t condone same-sex marriage,’” Eileen said.
For Mireya, who only came out as gay recently, it was a heavy blow.
“I’d never had someone discriminate and put me down and make me feel bad,” she said.
“We were totally dumbfounded by the statement,” Eileen said. “I was upset. I was hurt. I was angry because it affected her so bad.”
Miller offered to let them stay and taste the cake.
But her tone wasn’t kind, Eileen said.
They got up and left without tasting a bite. Why would they, Eileen said, when they would never be able to order the cake.
Eileen posted about the experience on Facebook, Mireya developed a 30-minute nosebleed brought on by the heat and stress, and they went home — ready for the day to be over.
They found out their story had explode online when Eileen saw herself on the television news.
Since then they have been bombarded with calls and messages both good and bad.
Support has poured in.
But people from across the nation have sent them texts calling them unnatural, telling them to let the issue drop and get a cake somewhere else and accusing them of going into Tastries so they could destroy a good Christian business.
“It’s been stressful and emotionally draining,” Mireya said.
But they plan to stand up for themselves and others like them.
“We didn’t ask for it, but here it is,” Eileen said.
TWO IN ONE
One other couple, Ted Freitas and Adam Ramos, were denied a cake by Tastries Aug. 26. They declined to be interviewed but provided a statement they'd made on Facebook.
What frustrated them most was being “strung along.”
“We did not, at any time, hide the fact that we were two engaged men looking to buy a wedding cake. Staff on all occasions were more than happy to help us and even offered for us to attend one of their cake-tasting events which we signed up for,” they wrote.
But when Miller learned Freitas and Ramos were marrying, she transferred their order to another bakery.
“Had it been disclosed to us upfront during our initial visit that Tastries does not cater to same-sex couples, we would have gladly taken our business elsewhere,” the statement read. We hold no ill will against Cathy personally, and we have no intent on taking any legal actions. We just wish she would have handled the situation in a better manner, and we will no longer be doing business or referring anyone to Tastries,” Freitas wrote.
But other same-sex couples say they got wedding cakes from Tastries.
And that may be because employees of Tastries tried to help people like Eileen and Mireya Rodriguez-Del Rio have their cake. The couple said the employee they worked with knew they were gay but was kind, helpful and — when things went bad — apologetic.
And she, apparently, wasn't the only one.
Justin Salinas said he decorated cakes for Tastries Bakery on and off for three years. This week he released a video on YouTube talking about his time at the bakery. He encouraged Miller to have a change of heart, apologize to people she hurt and seek forgiveness.
He told a reporter Wednesday there was a sort of unspoken battle over same-sex wedding cakes at the bakery.
Some employees — mostly decorators — formed an underground “pipeline” to help same-sex couples get wedding cakes made, Salinas said. They hid same-sex order forms then would fill the orders and try to get the cakes delivered without being caught.
Because Miller’s husband, Michael Miller, delivered most of the cakes, it was hard to get one to clients. But what partly made it possible, Salinas said, was that Cathy Miller was trying to open a second bakery downtown.
That expansion didn’t work out but Miller, Salinas said, was often gone from the Rosedale Highway bakery.
“She was focused on building an empire that was falling at her feet,” he said.
Salinas estimated that in his time there, about five same-sex couples got cakes through the pipeline. He said he didn’t believe Miller knew there was an effort to circumvent her policy, but she did go through decorators' order files regularly.
And she did remove orders and call gay and lesbian clients to cancel their cake, Salinas said.
“One couple ordered a cake from us,” he said. “Cathy called a week before (the wedding) and said she couldn’t make the cake.”