Despite the Supreme Court’s historic marriage ruling, LGBT Americans can still be at risk of being denied services for who they are or risk being fired simply for getting married and wearing their wedding ring to the office.
The article shares the experiences of Tiffany Cannon and Lauren Horbal, a same-sex couple that was denied housing in Tennessee, and Patricia Dawson, a transgender woman who claims she was let go from her job in Arkansas because of her gender identity.
Nondiscrimination Bill is the Next Highest Priority for LGBT Americans after Marriage Equality
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Here’s a closer look at the kinds of discrimination FRC and other conservatives believe embodies “religious liberty:”
Sweet Cakes by Melissa (2013): Sweet Cakes is an Oregon bakery that refused a wedding cake to a same-sex couple. Discrimination based on sexual orientation is illegal under Oregon law.
Just Cookies (2010): Just Cookies were not so just when they refused an order of rainbow cookies for an LGBT student group at Indiana University Purdue University-Indianapolis. Despite claims that they couldn’t fulfill the order, the owner admitted he didn’t think it was best for his “two young, impressionable daughters,” and they eventually settled a complaint with the city of Indianapolis for violating its anti-discrimination ordinance.
Masterpiece Cakes (2012): Masterpiece Cakes in Lakewood, Colorado refused wedding cakes to multiple same-sex couples, though follow-up test calls revealed it would accommodate a cake for a dog wedding. The state attorney general has filed a complaint against the shop for violating the state’s nondiscrimination laws.
Victoria’s Cake Cottage (2011): Baker Victoria Childress of Des Moines, Iowa told a same-sex couple she couldn’t provide them with a wedding cake because of her “convictions for their lifestyle.” It doesn’t seem any legal action was ever taken, but discrimination based on sexual orientation is a violation of Iowa law.
Fleur Cakes (2013): Fleur Cakes is the second Oregon bakery to refuse service to a same-sex couple this year in violation of the law. The owner of Fleur Cakes, like those of Sweet Cakes, would gladly provide cakes for all kinds of other sins, just not same-sex marriages.
Elane Photography (2006): The infamous case of Elane Photography is a staple conservative argument for “religious liberty.” A same-sex couple sued when photographer ElaneHugenin refused to document their commitment ceremony because of her Christian beliefs. She has fought the complaint with support from the Alliance Defending Freedom, but has so far lost at multiple levels of New Mexico court for violating the state’s nondiscrimination law.
Aloha Bed and Breakfast (2011): The Aloha Bed and Breakfast in Hawai’i refused to rent a room to a lesbian couple because the owner believed same-sex relationships “defile the land.” The couple sued, and this April a state judge ruled against the B&B; for violating the state’s LGBT nondiscrimination protections.
Arlene’s Flowers (2013): Washington florist Barronelle Stutzman refused to provide the flowers for the wedding of a same-sex couple who had long frequented her shop because of her “relationship with Jesus Christ.” She now faces two lawsuits: one from the couple, and one from the state attorney general for violating state law.
Liberty Ridge Farm (2012): Last September, the New York-based Liberty Ridge Farm refused to let a lesbian couple rent the venue for their wedding because it goes against their religious views. The couple filed a complaint, and conservatives were quick to defend the venue as some small operation — a literal family “farm” — but blogger Jeremy Hooper has pointed out that the business sells wedding packages for several thousand dollars and even runs a wedding blog to tout its offerings.
All Occasion Party Place (2013): The All Occasion Party Place near Fort Worth, Texas refused to rent its venue to a gay couple for a wedding reception “because of God.” Because it’s located outside the city limits, it is not covered by the city’s nondiscrimination protections, and Texas state laws do not protect sexual orientation.
Wildflower Inn (2011): Due to “personal feelings,” the Wildflower Inn in Vermont refused to let a lesbian couple hold their wedding reception there. The couple filed a complaint, which they won last August when the Inn settled, admitting they violated the state’s nondiscrimination laws. Its owners paid a $10,000 civil penalty and established a $20,000 charitable for the couple, which they intend to use to support The Trevor Project.
Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association (2007): The Ocean Grove pavilion in New Jersey is a case conservatives cite quite regularly along with Elane Photography, but the story they tell doesn’t hold up. The church group refused to let a same-sex couple hold a civil union at its boardwalk pavilion, and when the couple filed a complaint, a judge ruled in their favor and the pavilion ultimately lost its tax exemption. The key detail conservatives leave out is that its tax exemption was not based on its religious affiliation, but on a Green Acres real-estate tax exemption for conservation and recreation purposes. The New Jersey Civil Rights Division upheld the judge’s decision in the case, and since losing, the pavilion has re-obtained tax-exempt status through the group’s religious identity.
Hands On Originals (2012): Hands On Originals, a printing company in Lexington, Kentucky, refused to produce t-shirts for the city’s Pride festival because “we’re a Christian organization.” The Gay and Lesbian Services Organization filed a complaint, and the Lexington Human Rights Commission ultimately ruled against the company for violating the city’s sexual orientation nondiscrimination ordinance.
Dr. Angela McCaskill (2012): Last year, Gallaudet University suspended its chief diversity officer for helping challenge Maryland’s marriage equality law at the ballot. She refused to apologize, seeming to compromise her responsibility to ensure that LGBT employees and students at the university are not subject to discrimination. She suggested she might seek compensation for the suspension, but she has since been reinstated.
Crystal Dixon (2008): Crystal Dixon published an editorial letter in the Toledo Free Press objecting to the idea that “those choosing the homosexual lifestyle are ‘civil rights victims’” because they “violate God’s divine order,” identifying herself in the letter as Associate Vice President for Human Resources at the University of Toledo. The university proceeded to terminate her employment because her views directly contradicted her responsibility to uphold its nondiscrimination statement, which includes sexual orientation. She sued, and last December the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the university had legitimate grounds to fire her. She has appealed to the Supreme Court.
There are several common themes in the 15 examples FRC sites. First, in every case where legal action has been taken, the discriminating entity has lost, and in the cases that are ongoing, the state has sided with the same-sex couples who filed complaints. Secondly, many of these cases have taken place in states that don’t even have marriage equality, proving that the issue is not even related to marriage laws, but to nondiscrimination provisions. Lastly, as the last two examples demonstrate, conservatives believe anti-gay discrimination for discrimination’s sake is perfectly valid, even when it’s an individual’s job specifically not to. Most of these examples address public accommodations, and none of them make a compelling case against either marriage equality nor ENDA’s employment protections.
Conservatives may champion “religious liberty” as their argument against LGBT equality moving forward, but it’s an argument they’re already losing across the country.
Example of gay discrimination
An employer allows a man whose female partner is pregnant to take annual leave so that he can go to ante-natal appointments with her.
The employer refuses a similar request from a woman whose female partner is pregnant. This is likely to be direct discrimination because of sexual orientation.
“Today’s decision is historic, no doubt about it. But it does not end discrimination against many LGBT people,” said Adam Talbot, spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign, an LGBT rights group.
When we’re denied services related to our weddings, we don’t have full marriage recognition. Being told by the government clerk to go to the next town over to obtain our marriage licenses because she won’t issue them to same-sex couples means we don’t have full marriage equality. Being told by a public-serving business, including a wedding venue, a baker, or a florist, that they won’t provide services for weddings of same-sex couples is another form of marriage discrimination, where same-sex couples continue to get singled out for discrimination.
Anti-discrimination laws, in the end, are not about re-litigating the definition of marriage, nor condoning homosexuality. They’re about protecting LGBT people from being fired, evicted, and turned away from diner counters, especially now that they’ve won the bittersweet right to live their relationships fully in public.
The irony of gay marriage becoming legal in the United States is that it has made discrimination against LBGT people easier. For example: Many newlywed couples may be asking their employers for spousal benefits for the first time. Depending on where they live, it may or may not be illegal for that employer to respond by firing them. Some state legislatures have tentatively taken on this issue; Pennsylvania and Idaho, for example, both saw bills introduced in 2015. But in many places, these efforts are complicated by a tangled political question: Should these laws make exceptions for religious individuals and organizations that object to employing and providing services to gay people?
Gay-rights advocates are planning to push hard for discrimination protections, while religious-liberty groups continue to raise concerns about protecting people’s freedom of conscience. Meanwhile, state-level legislators are caught in the middle, no longer able to avoid a contentious set of issues many would rather have ignored.