Can Businesses be Ordered to Serve Same-sex Weddings?

Business, Freedom, LGBT, News

On Wednesday, the Kansas State House passed House Bill 2453, a bill effectively allowing businesses the right to refuse services to same-sex couples. The bill was received and introduced at the Senate Wednesday and awaits further action. Kansas is not the first state to grapple with this issue; cases surrounding this issue have arisen in Oregon, Colorado, and New Mexico, and legal experts predict many similar cases in the future.

Does Kansas Bill 2453 Prevent or Encourage Discrimination?

Kansas HB 2453 allows business owners and employees to refuse to provide goods and services if it violates their religious beliefs concerning marriage. (Same sex marriage is not legal in Kansas but is currently legal in 17 states and Washington, D.C.) Under this bill, even employees of government institutions could deny services to gay couples, although they are obliged to find another employee who will. Also, anyone refusing to engage in business with someone based on their gender or sexual preferences will be free from facing a civil suit.

The authors have framed the bill as “an act concerning religious freedom with respect to marriage” and view it as an attempt to prevent discrimination against people with strongly held religious views. Republican Governor Sam Brownback said, in support of the bill, “Americans have constitutional rights, among them the right to exercise their religious beliefs.”

Members and supporters of the LGBT community view the bill as legalizing discrimination against individuals based on their sexual preferences. Advocates for gay rights were unhappy with the lack of action and vocal opposition from Minority Leader Paul Davis, who voted against the bill.

Chances of the bill passing the Republican-controlled Senate are considered high.

Bakers’, Photographers’ Cases Go To Court

The wording of the Kansas bill may leave open room for denial of a range of services to same-sex couples, but the stated intent is different, according to its supporters. The intention is to prevent service providers such as photographers and bakers from having to take part in same-sex wedding or commitment ceremonies, if those service providers do not believe that marriage between same-sex partners is right. These kinds of cases have come up in other states and some have gone to court.

The openly Christian owners of an Oregon bakery refused to make a cake for a wedding ceremony of a lesbian couple that then filed a complaint. The bakery owners, who shut down their shop after intense backlash and moved it to their home, face fines and formal civil charges.

In December, a Colorado court ruled that a Denver baker could not refuse to provide a cake for a same-sex couple’s ceremony. Jack Phillips of Masterpiece Cakeshop opposes same-sex unions on religious grounds. Judge Robert Spencer acknowledged his rights as a businessman, but said “this view, however, fails to take into account the cost to society.”

The U.S. Supreme Court has been asked to consider a similar case involving Albuquerque photographers Elaine and Jonathan Huguenin who refused to shoot a same-sex commitment ceremony in 2006. The case went to the New Mexico Supreme Court, which found that under state law, their actions constituted discrimination. In response, the Alliance Defending Freedom filed a petition for certiorari to the U.S. Supreme Court in November on behalf of the Huguenins, hoping to reverse that decision. If the Supreme Court agrees to hear the case, it could be another landmark case for gay rights.