A florist in Washington state, a baker in Oregon and a photographer in New Mexico are all among the small-business people who have received nationwide pushback for declining to provide services for the weddings of same-sex couples.
Now a videographer in the Columbus area has joined their ranks.
Next Door Stories in Bexley has become the subject of a boycott campaign, after a Facebook post detailed an email in which a company founder said she doesn’t provide services for same-sex weddings.
Though the company wouldn’t respond to messages seeking comment on Friday, business owners who refuse such services generally cite religious reasons.
Detractors often accuse the businesses of discrimination akin to racism. On the flip side, religious groups that oppose same-sex marriage often come to their defense, calling them victims of anti-Christian bigotry.
It’s an impasse that’s likely to continue.
The U.S. Supreme Court is poised to make a decision about same-sex marriage in Ohio this spring, and most legal experts believe that state laws prohibiting same-sex marriage will be found unconstitutional.
But it probably will take a few more years for courts and legislators to work out issues involving wedding-service providers, said Charles Hartman, associate professor of business law at Cedarville University, a Christian school in western Ohio.
Further, though 37 states allow same-sex marriage, just 21 prohibit businesses that provide services to the general public from discrimination based on sexual-orientation.
Ohio currently does not allow same-sex marriage, and its anti-discrimination law does not include sexual orientation. However, a number of municipalities and cities, including Columbus, have ordinances that prohibit sexual-orientation discrimination. Bexley is not among them.
“This is one of those situations that shows how bizarre it is that Ohio as a state doesn’t have a statewide anti-discrimination law that covers gay and transgender people,” said Grant Stancliff, a spokesman for Equality Ohio, which advocates for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender couples.
Equality Ohio, other advocacy groups and the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union have been working for a state law that would not only offer protections for same-sex couples when it comes to using businesses, as well as with employment and housing.
The ACLU has a long history of also protecting religious liberties, said Lisa Wurm, policy manager at the ACLU of Ohio. However, she said, the organization believes “that nobody should be turned away from a business … just because of who they are.”
Reached via Facebook, Jenn Moffitt, 33, said the decision by her and partner Jerra Knicely, 34, to go public with the Feb. 4 e-mail from Next Door Stories has made the Bexley couple the target of both positive and negative comments.
“We have received many nasty reactions and feedback, but the love and support we’ve gotten from complete strangers across the globe has been extraordinary,” Moffitt said. “It is our hope that our humiliation and mental anguish being made public will spearhead some much needed overdue (legislation).”
The American public is divided when it comes to the issue.
In a September survey by the Pew Research Center, 49 percent of respondents said businesses that provide wedding services should be required to provide them to same-sex couples; 47 percent said businesses should be allowed to refuse for religious reasons.
In Bexley, criticism also has been directed at the Bexley Area Chamber of Commerce, where President Colleen Krupp said the organization is “like the vast majority of chamber organizations nationwide” in not having a non-discrimination policy that applies to membership.
However, she said, the chamber board “believes that discrimination in any form is wrong and should not be tolerated” and is working to implement an anti-discrimination policy that would include sexual orientation.
Businesses that oppose same-sex marriage have a number of issues to consider, Hartman, of Cedarville University, said. Among them is whether an “expressive activity,” such as cake baking or photography, is more of an “endorsement” than a more routine, less-individualized service.
“For instance, should a Christian plumber refuse to fix a drain at a college fraternity house if the plumber believes the fraternity will host wild parties that the plumber finds objectionable?” he asked.
Hartman said concerned service providers can lobby elected officials, while praying about the situation.
“They would be wise to determine their own boundaries, and count the cost of any course of action, before they are asked to make a decision about providing services,” he said.