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Wedding Vendors That Refuse Gay Customers Often Lose In Court


With the Supreme Court's landmark decisions on gay marriage cases earlier this week, the country has shifted further toward acceptance of same-sex matrimony.

Obviously, there are many Americans who are not on board with that. So, what happens when a private businessperson, because of religious convictions, refuses to provide services for a gay wedding?

Here's NPR's John Burnett.

JOHN BURNETT, BYLINE: In most of the 12 states where same-sex marriage is legal and in other states that allow civil unions, there exist exemptions for clergy and for houses of worship that are opposed, in principle, when two men or two women want to wed. There are no such exemptions for wedding vendors who want to opt out. And yet, this has happened in a few scattered cases.

A florist in Washington state refused to provide flowers for a gay wedding. That case went to court today to test the state's consumer protection laws.

A New Mexico photographer refused to photograph a gay commitment ceremony. She was fined for violating antidiscrimination laws and her case is on appeal.

And bakeries in Iowa, Colorado and Oregon have refused to bake wedding cakes with bride-bride and groom-groom figurines on top.

AARON KLEIN: I believe that marriage is a religious institution ordained by God. The Book of Genesis talks about that for this reason: A man shall leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife. That, to me, is the beginning, the basis of marriage.

BURNETT: Aaron Klein is a 33-year-old baker who, with his wife, runs Sweet Cakes by Melissa - famous for its tuxedo brownies - near Portland, Oregon. He was quoted here on NBC.

KLEIN: Klein informed a customer in January that he would not make a tiered wedding cake for two women tying the knot. Since the incident became public, Klein says he's received death threats, his bakery was picketed, he's gotten hate mail, and protesters have threatened his referrals. He says his wedding business is down by half.

We're struggling, but in the end, my faith is more important to me than a dollar. So I will continue to stand for what I believe in. And I don't think anybody is ever going to force me to go against my religion.

BURNETT: For the record, a business owner can refuse service to someone who does not wear a shirt, or who's abusive or disorderly. But according to Jeff Manning with the Oregon Department of Justice...

JEFF MANNING: What they can't do is refuse service to someone who's a member of a protected class, such as a same-sex couple. You can't refuse service to somebody because they're gay and you think that it is against your religious beliefs. That is against the law.

BURNETT: The spurned same-sex couple complained to the Oregon attorney general, but Manning says they have not followed up and the complaint is now inactive.

Jim Campbell is legal counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, a nonprofit that represents individuals like Aaron Klein.

JIM CAMPBELL: As there are more same-sex marriages, there are more people requesting services for same sex-marriages, and these cases are just going to become more prevalent.

BURNETT: So, if more Christian businesspeople do stand up and they say, I won't be a DJ, or I won't drive a limousine, or I won't make bridesmaid dresses for a gay wedding because the First Amendment says I don't have to, they're not convincing judges.

IRA LUPU: The vendor usually loses...

BURNETT: Ira Lupu is a law professor at George Washington University.

LUPU: ...because the vendor is violating the state's antidiscrimination law which outlaws discrimination based on sexual orientation.

BURNETT: For some perspective, there are fewer than a dozen of these Christian-vendor-rejects-gay-wedding cases that have made the news.

Many more wedding vendors - note, and the Vermont Gay Tourism Travel Association - see same-sex marriage as a business opportunity rather than a crucible of their religious principles.

John Burnett, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As NPR's Southwest correspondent based in Austin, Texas, John Burnett covers immigration, border affairs, Texas news and other national assignments. In 2018, 2019 and again in 2020, he won national Edward R. Murrow Awards from the Radio-Television News Directors Association for continuing coverage of the immigration beat. In 2020, Burnett along with other NPR journalists, were finalists for a duPont-Columbia Award for their coverage of the Trump Administration's Remain in Mexico program. In December 2018, Burnett was invited to participate in a workshop on Refugees, Immigration and Border Security in Western Europe, sponsored by the RIAS Berlin Commission.

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