Annapolis, Md., Trolley Won’t Cater to Any Weddings, Joining a Handful of Business Owners in Other States
Although more and more Americans are accepting marriage equality, a handful of small business owners, citing their religious beliefs, so strongly oppose same-sex marriage that they say they are willing to lose business rather than have to cater to LGBT couples. A very few are denying services to such couples in the full knowledge that they are breaking anti-discrimination laws.
Discover Annapolis Tours is a beloved local institution whose old-fashioned trolley rides through Maryland's historic seaport capital is popular with wedding parties. No longer, says owner Matt Grubbs, who told the Baltimore Sun that he won't provide trolley rides to any couples getting married because he doesn't support marriage equality.
Grubbs said he plans to post a full explanation about his decision on the business' website Jan. 1, the first day when Maryland's LGBT couples can get married in the Free State. By getting rid wedding ceremonies all together, Grubbs is able to bypass the state's anti-discrimination laws.
"We're a Christian-owned company, and we just can't support gay marriages," Grubbs wrote in an email to a potential customer who wanted to use his company for a wedding, Patch reported. "We're not trying to make a statement. We're not trying to make a point. We're just trying to be faithful Christians."
"If they're providing services to the public, they can't discriminate who they provide their services to," Glendora Hughes, general counsel for the Maryland Commission on Civil Rights, told the Sun.
According to the Sun, Grubbs estimates to lose $50,000 a year in revenue by eliminating the wedding service.
"We would love to keep it open because a lot of people get engaged over Thanksgiving and Christmas and then call us," Grubbs said. "We hope to get back into it if we can get a religious exemption."
Grubbs wants Maryland's General Assembly to grant his businesses the right to deny same-sex couples his services based on his Christian beliefs, Patch reports. He used the Sun article to send out a clarion call to Marylanders to contact state legislators to "request they amend the new marriage law to allow an exemption for religious conviction for the layperson in the pew. The law exempts my minister from doing same-sex weddings, and the Knights of Columbus don't have to rent out their hall for a gay wedding reception, but somehow my religious convictions don't count for anything."
Executive Director Carrie Evans of Equality Maryland, the state's major gay rights organization, told the Sun that Grubb's company is apparently the only business in the state nixing his wedding services to avoid working with gay couples. "As long as he doesn't discriminate against other people, he's free to do whatever he wants to do, including withdrawing his business from the industry," Evans said.
Business' Religious Objections in Other States
Although Grubbs may be the only businessman exercising this tactic in Maryland, a very few businesses in other states that have legalized same-sex marriage preceded his action. Just a few days before the November election, Maine Public Broadcasting Network told of Linisa Beal, a photographer for the business she owns with her husband in central Maine, spoke out against the upcoming referendum on the issue -- the second time for Down Easteners, who voted it down last time.
"You know, whatever you vote on, it's not really about you. You think about it as a society that, yeah, we'll be persecuted. We'll be persecuted for this interview, but God provides. He gives us what we need," she said. Before Maine residents voted to legalize same-sex marriage, Beal and her husband campaigned against the measure and had a "Vote No on One" placard in their yard.
Beal Family Photography focuses on "keepsake" moments, including newborns, proms, family reunions -- and weddings. Beal vowed that if Maine legalized gay marriage, the family-owned business would not offer its services for same-sex couples, despite the legal consequences.
"If a gay couple comes and asks to be photographed, I would - kindly - tell them, 'I'm sorry. My faith, my belief, doesn't allow me to do that,'" Brent Beal, Linisa's husband, said. "It says in the Bible, in Joshua Chapter 24:15, 'As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.' That's the stand that we take."
In 2005, Maine passed anti-discrimination laws that prohibit businesses from turning someone away based on sexual orientation, and in November, voters reversed themselves and approved same-sex marriage.
"They can take everything they want away," Brent Beal said. "They can take my business away. They can take my house away. They can take - take everything - my wife, my children, everything. But what I believe in is inside of me. They can't take that away."
As of this writing, no gay couple has put the small business on the spot by requesting their services. But in case that has become a touchstone and rallying cry for the Evangelical Right, a photography studio in New Mexico was convicted of violating the state's anti-discrimination law in January. As reported here, after a lesbian was told the studio wouldn't shoot her wedding, the same studio pursued business from her partner after she contacted the studio without revealing her sexual orientation.
Earlier this year, the Associated Press reported on discrimination complaint a lesbian couple filed in October against Liberty Ridge Farm, near Albany, N.Y., for turning them away because of their sexual orientation.
Melisa Erwin and Jennie McCarthy said they filed the complaint because "We just want to know that the policy is being changed to fit the laws so this doesn't happen to anyone else." The owners of the farm said they based their objections to gay marriage on their values and religious background.
"They still have children at home and they feel that their rights are being violated and they're being discriminated against because of their position on the issue of gay marriage," said Jason McGuire, executive director of New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, a group opposed to gay marriage.
Like the other states (and the District of Columbia) that have legalized same-sex marriage, New York State has very explicit "religious carve outs" that exempt any religion that opposes such marriages from having to accommodate same-sex weddings in their facilities.
But, as Lambda Legal Senior Counsel Susan Sommer noted at the time, said it's well established that a business that serves the public is in violation of anti-discrimination laws that include sexual orientation. "If it opens its venue for weddings by the general public, it can't then shut its doors on a same-sex couple," Sommer said.
McGuire is arguing that the religious carve out protects people like the Giffords, despite their farm not being a place of worship. McGuire argues there is a broader issue at work here, of basic religious freedom.
If the New York State Division of Human Rights determines blatant discrimination, Liberty Ridge would be under pressure to allow such weddings or not allow any weddings to take place there at all.
There is at least one other similar court case in New York. In September, a gay couple filed a lawsuit against a Chinese restaurant in Greenwich Village, which they allege canceled their wedding rehearsal dinner and refused to cater their wedding after a manager said he did not want any "gay parties." The restaurant has disputed the claim.
In August, a Vermont inn agreed to pay a $10,000 civil penalty to that state's Human Rights Commission and to place $20,000 in a charitable trust to settle a lawsuit that accused the business of refusing to host a wedding reception for two women.
Meanwhile, in August, in Colorado, a baker in a Denver suburb became the focus of a mini-media frenzy when he refused to make a cake for a gay couple. The bakery became a cause celebré for both sides, with gay pickets facing people who flocked to the bakery in support. Since the state doesn't recognize same-sex relationships, however, the baker isn't subject to any type of official reprimand.