Sunday, Sept. 21, 2014

Wedding industry illustrates unresolved legal relationship between religious freedom and gay rights

Compiled by Kelsey Dallas, Deseret News National Edition

Published: Sun, Aug. 31 8:00 p.m. MDT

(tepic, Getty Images/iStockphoto)

It's not always happily ever after for Christian business owners in the wedding industry, as recent religious freedom cases illustrate.

Cynthia and Robert Gifford, owners of Liberty Ridge Farm in New York, have decided to stop hosting wedding ceremonies after being fined for refusing to rent their space to a lesbian couple, The Blaze reported.

"The family will continue hosting wedding receptions, but ceremonies — which have traditionally been hosted inside the Giffords' home on the property or at another nearby location — will immediately cease."

When Administrative Law Judge Migdalia Pares ruled in mid-August, Religion News Service reported that the farm is both a business and a private residence, which complicated the case.

Quoting Adam Winkler, a law professor at the University of California, RNS reported that, although "public accommodation laws usually don't apply to private residences," the decision to start a home-based business removed the couple's right to refuse service based on their religious beliefs.

"If you want to open yourself up to the public, there's a cost, which is that you can't discriminate," said Winkler.

The Liberty Ridge Farm case was the latest in an ongoing conflict between religious freedom and same-sex marriage. Among the Christian business owners penalized for refusing to accommodate a gay wedding on religious grounds are a photographer in New Mexico, a florist in Washington and a wedding cake baker in Colorado.

In April, the Supreme Court rejected the appeal from New Mexico's Elane Photography, ensuring that related debates will remain at the state level for the time being, the Associated Press reported.

AP noted that leaders from "Alabama, Arizona, Kansas, Michigan, Montana, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Virginia had asked the high court to hear the case so lawmakers would have guidance in considering such measures."

Alliance Defending Freedom, which petitioned the Supreme Court for Elane Photography, has also represented several of the other business owners facing discrimination claims. It responded to the Giffords' decision in a short post.

Alluding to ongoing confusion about the appropriate legal response to the tension between gay rights and religious freedom, the post referred to America's "rush to redefine marriage" and the organization's concern for couples like the Giffords who only seek the freedom to follow their religious convictions.

Alliance Defending Freedom attorney James Trainor, the Giffords' lawyer, cited the First Amendment in his statement about the case, which was referenced by The Blaze. "The government should not force anyone to participate in or celebrate an event that violates their faith and beliefs," he wrote.

Email: kdallas@deseretnews.com Twitter: @kelsey_dallas

1. Furry1993
Ogden, UT,
Aug. 31, 2014

It's very simple. When a person goes into business to serve the general public, that person agrees that his/her religious liberties cease where the rights of the general public start. The business person gives up the right to be bigoted or unjustly prejudicial when s/he goes into business; that's just part of being in business. If the person in business to serve the general public does not want to provide all of his/her regularly-available services or products to all of the general public, that person should find another way to earn a living because s/he has no business being in business.

2. Jeff Harris
Edmonds, WA,
Aug. 31, 2014

Religious freedom? The people in New York who rent their farm for weddings are running a business not a church. It is a public accommodation. No one is requiring them to participate in a marriage they are merely renting the space.

Unresolved? New York's anti-discrimination laws protect everyone from unfair discrimination, as do New Mexico's. The US Supreme Court has let stand a unanimous New Mexico Supreme Court ruling last year that said Elane Photography violated New Mexico's Human Rights Act by refusing to photograph the same-sex ceremony "in the same way as if it had refused to photograph a wedding between people of different races."

The misnamed Alliance Defending Freedom, (the only so-called freedom this group defends is the exclusion of taxpaying gay citizens from equal protection under the law) should be careful what they ask for. Allowing any business to use religious beliefs as an excuse to deny people services would be deeply damaging to our society. For example, could a emergency medical service owned by a Southern Baptist refuse service to a Mormon?

3. Rufio
Saratoga, UT,
Aug. 31, 2014

There is just something inherently wrong with any privately owned business not being able to make the simple decisions about who the customers may be - the right to refuse service. Why should government be able to dictate to that level? Our nation was founded on some very simple premises regarding government interference in personal liberty.

Likewise, a free and competitive business environment, results in the natural prosperity of businesses that chose the best practices.

When something that is wrong is allowed have government protection - the wrong spreads to even wider circles until we find that right is called wrong and wrongs become rights.

4. A Quaker
Brooklyn, NY,
Aug. 31, 2014

The freedom to practice a religion gives one a right to hold beliefs, establish and support institutions of worship, preach it on street corners, own and use religious books and artifacts, to be free of government sanction or favoritism towards any denomination. This is a blessed freedom. Look at those places where it doesn't exist, to understand.

Conducting a business falls entirely in the secular sphere. It's also optional. No one is compelled to remain in an industry where one's conscience does not permit it.

You are confusing rights of conscience with the authority of civil law. Conscience does not give anyone a right to disobey civil law without consequences. Civil disobedience has costs, as many a protester can tell you. But, if you have a truly held religious belief that makes it difficult to conduct a business without violating antidiscrimination laws, you do have a legal right to (at your own expense) change businesses, or move to where those laws don't exist.

While that farm's owners can compromise on receptions but not ceremonies, others might not want even LGBT visitors. Civil law must apply equally to all.

5. Ranch
Here, UT,
Aug. 31, 2014

Why is it okay to use your "religious conscience" as a reason to discrminate against LGBT couples, when you don't even bother asking your heterosexual customers if they are violating your "religious conscience" in any way?

If its against your religious views to serve sinners, isn't it as much a sin to serve sinners unknowingly? Shouldn't you have a questionaire for ALL your customers?

These bakers, photographers, florists, etc. don't seem to have a problem baking cakes for serial adulterers; providing flowers for fornicators getting married, or providing the venue to host the wedding of a convicted thief.

This whole issue just brings to light the hypocrisy of those who refuse to business with LGBT people on "religious grounds". I'd suggest you all do a search on your bible's multiple warnings to hypocrites. You're on shaky ground people when you use your religion in this manner. Very shaky ground.

Rufio says:

"When something that is wrong is allowed have government protection - the wrong spreads to even wider circles ..."