Steve Tennes (above) and his devout Catholic family own Country Mill Farms, Winery, Orchard and Cider Mill. in Charlotte, Michigan. The picturesque locale makes additional income by renting out the venue for weddings and events.
Last August, a visitor to Country Mill’s Facebook page asked if they hosted gay weddings at the farm. Tennes answered in the negative, explaining that his Catholic family believes marriage should be between a man and woman. The Tennes family sells its products at an East Lansing farmers market, and that city’s officials were notified of their “no gay weddings” policy. A city ordinance requires that participants in the market, even those not located within East Lansing city limits, have to agree with its non-discrimination ordinance. “I think it’s a very strong principle that you should not be discriminating against somebody elsewhere and then come here and want to participate in our market,” East Lansing City Manager George Lahanas told the news media.
Lansing officials urged (threatened?) Tennes to comply with its ordinance, so the farm stopped hosting weddings of any kind for a while. Then Tennes decided to defy the order and announced on Facebook that the farm would resume hosting weddings, but only those involving a man and a women. In turn, the city told Tennes that his farm would not be welcome at the farmer’s market for the 2017 season.
“It was brought to our attention that The Country Mill’s general business practices do not comply with East Lansing’s Civil Rights ordinances and public policy against discrimination as set forth in Chapter 22 of the City Code and outlined in the 2017 Market Vendor Guidelines, as such, The Country Mill’s presence as a vendor is prohibited by the City’s Farmer’s Market Vendor Guidelines,” the city said in a letter to the family. Just coincidentally I’m sure, East Lansing recently updated its civil rights ordinance to include discrimination at “all business practices” for participants the city’s farmers market. City Mayor Mark Meadows said the farm’s exclusion is based on the Tennes family’s “business decision” to exclude same-sex weddings. (Since the limitations on the weddings performed undoubtedly forfeits business, I have my doubts about whether the city can win the claim that it is a business decision and not a religious one.)
Now the farm is suing East Lansing. “Our faith and beliefs on marriage and hosting weddings at our home and in our backyard of our farm have nothing to do with the city of East Lansing,” Tennes said at a press conference last week “Nor does it have anything to do with the produce that we sell to the people that attend the farmers markets who are from all backgrounds and all beliefs.”
The suit asks the court to restore Country Mill Farms’ freedoms, stop East Lansing’s “discriminatory policy,” and award damages. The city claims its policy is in line with the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling eliminating a ban on same-sex marriage.
My first comment: Yechhh. I’ll sure be clad when society is accustomed enough to same-sex couples that people stop treating them like they are viruses and other people stop bullying those who are slow to accept the cultural shift into submission.
I think East Lansing loses this lawsuit, or at least should.
At first it reminded me of this case, from 2014, where a family-run chapel was initially told by Coeur d’Alene, Idaho that it had to hold same-sex weddings. The city backed down, but the decisive issue in that case was that the chapel’s minister would be forced to do a ceremony that his religious beliefs didn’t permit. Forced speech is as unconstitutional as restricted speech, so the city eventually said, “Never mind!”
I wrote in part,
What’s next, legally requiring citizens to accept invitations to gay weddings? Make sure they get a nice gift? …It appears not to even occur to dedicated gay marriage rights activists that Americans can’t be forced to say what the good people think they should say, or support what the right people insist they should support. I happen to believe that same-sex marriages are good, and that legalizing them is right. Nonetheless, if you tell me I have to officiate at one of them or be fined, we have a problem. This kind of fascism from the left—and that’s what it is— forfeits the support of the fair, the moderate and the sane…Any advance in ethics can become a slippery slope to the unethical, and this is a good example. Personal autonomy still matters; freedom of belief is still an important right to respect and protect. Slippery slopes need sand, and this is an excellent example of why.
The ethics issue here is related, but different. This one reminds me more of the Chic-Fil-A controversy, when various mayors were announcing that because the company’s owner was a vocal opponent of same-sex marriage, his business wasn’t welcome in their cities. I wrote (in part) about that ethics train wreck: Continue reading