same gender “marriage”s effect on religious people

Posted: January 9, 2013 in Uncategorized,0,1784522.story

Maryland trolley company halts wedding rides after gay marriage law

The owner of Discover Annapolis Tours is walking away from the wedding industry instead of compromising his Christian convictions.

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Discover Annapolis Tours owner Matt Grubbs quits wedding business Discover Annapolis Tours owner Matt Grubbs, polishing the trolley’s interior, decided to discontinue the company’s popular wedding service instead of having to serve same-sex couples. (Kenneth K. Lam, Baltimore Sun / December 8, 2012)

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By Erin Cox, Baltimore Sun

December 29, 2012, 6:22 p.m.

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — A company whose old-fashioned trolleys are iconic in the city’s wedding scene has abandoned the nuptial industry rather than serve same-sex couples.

The owner of Discover Annapolis Tours said he decided to walk away from $50,000 in annual revenue instead of compromising his Christian convictions when same-sex marriage becomes legal in Maryland on Tuesday.

While most wedding businesses across the country have embraced the chance to serve same-sex couples, a small minority has struggled to balance religious beliefs against business interests.

Wedding vendors elsewhere who refused to accommodate same-sex couples have faced discrimination lawsuits — and lost. Legal experts said Discover Annapolis Tours sidesteps legal trouble by avoiding all weddings.

“If they’re providing services to the public, they can’t discriminate who they provide their services to,” said Glendora Hughes, general counsel for the Maryland Commission on Civil Rights.

The trolley company’s decision, publicized by a straight groom offended by what he called “repressive bigotry,” offers a snapshot of a local business navigating a new landscape in Maryland’s wedding industry, and leaving customers behind for a competitor to swoop in.

The head of the Maryland Wedding Professionals Assn. said the trolley company was the second vendor to refuse business over the same-sex marriage law, which voters upheld in November. The clergyman who led the opposition to same-sex marriage in the state called the company’s choice to abandon profits on principle “gutsy” and predicted that more businesses would follow suit.

“That’s a bold and noble statement,” said Pastor Derek McCoy, executive director of the Maryland Marriage Alliance.

Frank Schubert, the political strategist who ran campaigns against same-sex marriage in Maryland and three other states this year, said opponents predicted collateral damage from legalizing same-sex unions. In November, voters also approved gay marriage in Washington and in Maine, where the first same-sex marriage licenses were issued Saturday.

“This is exactly what happens,” Schubert said, adding that religious liberty is “right in the cross hairs of this debate…. The law doesn’t protect people of faith. It simply doesn’t.”

Schubert pointed to a handful of news reports across the country of wedding vendors sued for refusing to accommodate a same-sex ceremony, such as a pair of Vermont innkeepers and a New Mexico photographer.

In Maryland, the gay rights group Equality Maryland said the trolley company’s decision appears to be an isolated case. “As long as he doesn’t discriminate against other people, he’s free to do whatever he wants to do, including withdrawing his business from the industry,” executive director Carrie Evans said.

Discover Annapolis Tours owner Matt Grubbs declined repeated requests to discuss the move, beyond acknowledging its economic impact to his business. Grubbs’ trolleys, with their interior lighting and quaint feel, had nearly become a staple in Annapolis’ wedding scene.

Grubbs confirmed that he had sent an email to prospective client Chris Belkot last month explaining: “We are not able to lend support to gay marriages” as a Christian-owned business. “And as a public accommodation, we cannot discriminate between gay or straight couples, so we had to stop doing all wedding transportation.”

Grubbs’ message went on to suggest Maryland residents contact their lawmakers to “request they amend the new marriage law to allow an exemption for religious conviction for the layperson in the pew. The law exempts my minister from doing same-sex weddings, and the Knights of Columbus don’t have to rent out their hall for a gay wedding reception, but somehow my religious convictions don’t count for anything.”

Belkot, 31, forwarded Grubbs’ email to Annapolis news websites and fired off a response to Grubbs that read, in part: “It is your right to run your business any way you see fit, but let’s be honest here, you drive a trolley up and down a street. Not exactly God’s work.”


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