This Discrimination is Legal in 70%+ of Pennsylvania

A trolley operator in Annapolis has opted to discontinue his wedding service rather than provide serve to 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 marriages become legal in Maryland in less than a week. And he has urged prospective clients to lobby state lawmakers for a religious exemption for wedding vendors.

 

While most wedding businesses across the country 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 commission enforces public accommodation laws that prohibit businesses from discriminating on the basis of race, sexual orientation and other characteristics.

Do you realize that this would be legal say in Cranberry? Or Greensburg? Or Washington, PA – home of the Train and Trolley Museum?

Photo credit: About.com

This business owner has conflated marriage equality with non-discrimination. He’s actually been required to provide services to LGBTQ people since 2001 when Maryland added protections to their Human Relations Ordinance – trolley companies fall under the “public accomodation” requirement.  So if I had tried to rent a trolley for a domestic partner celebration and he denied based on his beliefs, that would have been illegal. This guy wants an exemption from the wedding law, but it isn’t even the right law! Oh my …

The idea that you have a “right” to pick and choose the laws you comply with is ill-informed. There’s nothing inherently religious about his business even if he runs it on Christian principles – by his logic, he could be denied services by someone – say a trolley mechanic – who didn’t want to support Christianity. Where would it end? To be clear, a minister is exempted from performing services for LGBTQ couples because the activity itself – officiating a wedding – is a religious activity, not because he’s a minister. If the minister also owns a restaurant, he can’t refuse to provide service to LGBTQ families. If the church owns a restaurant, they can. Do you see the difference?

The important fact is that this would be LEGAL in most of Pennsylvania. We don’t have a statewide nondiscrimination law. We can be fired, denied rental housing, kicked out of restaurants for being LGBTQ  – and have no recourse.

The other important issue – marriage equality won’t help with this at all. We need a statewide bill – HB 300 will most likely be reintroduced in 2013. Keep an eye out  – these are economic development matters and they impact every single LGBTQ person in the state.

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