Wedding Discrimination After the Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

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By Christopher Coble, Esq. on July 08, 2015 3:57 PM

Now that the Supreme Court has ruled that same-sex couples have the right to be married, many are wondering what that will mean for small businesses. The big question being whether businesses can discriminate against same-sex couples in terms of providing wedding services, etc.

Last week, an Oregon bakery that refused to bake a wedding cake for a lesbian couple was fined $135,000, and this week another baker argued before the Colorado Court of Appeals, defending his refusal to make a cake for a gay couple. So where does the law stand now?

Are There Anti-Discrimination Laws?

Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination in places of public accommodation, but only applies to discrimination based on race, color, religion, and national origin. So currently there is no federal legislation that prevents a business from refusing to serve gays.

However, many states, counties, and cities have enacted their own anti-discrimination laws that include LGBT protections. Hence, the fines imposed on the bakers in Oregon and Colorado. So you may want to review local ordinances before you discriminate against same-sex couples.

What About Religious Freedom Laws?

Many states have passed or are passing Religious Freedom Restoration Acts, which bar the government from substantially burdening the free exercise of religion. In the case of gay marriage, many have been wondering if these laws will allow businesses to refuse service to gay, lesbian, or transgender customers based on a store owner's religious beliefs.

Generally, this will depend on how the particular RFRA is written -- most only apply to the government -- and if there are state or local laws prohibiting LGBT discrimination. Most RFRAs don't trump anti-discrimination laws, and, thus far, religious freedom arguments have been unsuccessful.

While in some places refusing to provide same-sex couples with weddings may be legal, businesses should know their local anti-discrimination laws and be ready to face reduced revenue, the possibility of boycotts, or social stigma for refusing to serve LGBT customers.

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