Michigan city bans farmer from selling at public market because he won’t hold gay weddings on his property
Via the Daily Signal, fines are one thing. Banishment from the public square for ungood thoughts feels like a new step.
As is usually the case with these standoffs involving someone claiming the right not to cater gay weddings, the business owner, Steve Tennes, doesn’t have an anti-gay policy. He says he has gay customers and has employed gay workers. He draws the line at weddings because he considers that a religious ritual which his faith limits to men and women. Result: He can’t sell carrots or whatever in East Lansing’s market anymore.
This past fall our family farm stopped booking future wedding ceremonies at our orchard until we could devote the appropriate time to review our policies and how we respectfully communicate and express our beliefs. The Country Mill engages in expressing its purpose and beliefs through the operation of its business and it intentionally communicates messages that promote its owners’ beliefs and declines to communicate messages that violate those beliefs.
The Country Mill family and its staff have and will continue to participate in hosting the ceremonies held at our orchard. It remains our deeply held religious belief that marriage is the union of one man and one woman and Country Mill has the First Amendment right to express and act upon its beliefs. For this reason, Country Mill reserves the right to deny a request for services that would require it to communicate, engage in, or host expression that violates the owners’ sincerely held religious beliefs and conscience.
Furthermore, it remains our religious belief that all people should be treated with respect and dignity regardless of their beliefs or background. We appreciate the tolerance offered to us specifically regarding our participation in hosting wedding ceremonies at our family farm.
Tennes posted that on Facebook in December. Four months later East Lansing sent him a letter telling him he had violated the city’s antidiscrimination ordinance and would be banned from the farmer’s market for the coming season. That wasn’t the first time they tried to exclude him either. Tennes had refused to hold a gay wedding on his property in 2014; two years later the couple complained publicly and Tennes responded by suspending all weddings at Country Mill. Since the “no weddings, period” policy didn’t violate any ordinance, East Lansing couldn’t legally ban him. So they tried informally excluding him instead, urging him to stay home for fear that gay-rights activists would turn out to protest and disrupt the market. Tennes showed up anyway. Result: No protests. Now that he’s reinstated the “no gay weddings” policy, though, the ban is on.
He has two options. Either a court, whether SCOTUS or the Michigan Supreme Court, expands the right of free exercise to shield religious business owners from antidiscrimination penalties related to their religious convictions or Michigan passes a Religious Freedom Restoration Act that would give religious business owners exemptions from those laws. A bill like that has been kicking around in the Michigan legislature for awhile but was stalled last I checked. Even if it passed, would Rick Snyder sign it? Mike Pence’s experience with a RFRA law in Indiana was a fiasco for him and might have ended his political career if Trump hadn’t decided to put him on the ticket. Gay-rights activists have raised the political cost steeply for passing laws like this, especially in purplish states like Michigan. It might be the courts or bust for Tennes.