» Breakthroughs & Backlash in Marriage Equality: The 2016 Legal Landscape

This post was written by WeddingWire Education Expert Kathryn Hamm, Publisher of GayWeddings.com, the leading online resource dedicated to serving same-sex couples since 1999. Kathryn is also co-author of the groundbreaking book, The New Art of Capturing Love: The Essential Guide to Lesbian and Gay Wedding Photography. Follow her on Twitter @madebykathryn.

One of the hardest aspects of our long walk to marriage equality was, for me, hearing nationally broadcast comments from those who have never met me declaring my life and relationship to be “immoral” or “wrong” or “not right with God.”

How would they know me, my spirituality, and my life? Those who do know me would say the exact opposite.

My values have, after all, been crafted in the careful curation of a family and community that embraces compassion, commitment, service, and integrity. And these values are the hallmark of my 23+ year relationship with my spouse.

I had hoped that the marriage equality breakthrough granted to us by the Supreme Court on June 26, 2015 would mean that my marriage (spiritually-bound for so many years, until we received this long-overdue, important civil right) would no longer be subject to the abject pronouncements by a small vocal group, and fueled by the members of their community who remained silent in fear of the repercussions for speaking up or revealing a change of heart.

But, here we are, even with marriage equality settled in all 50 states and over 85% of wedding professionals nationwide saying that they are ready, willing and able to serve same-sex couples, and the backlash is well underway. The conversation, though, is now being tried actively as one of religious freedom in both the court of public opinion and the court of law.

From The Headlines

Breakthroughs & Backlash in Marriage Equality: The 2016 Legal LandscapeKim Davis, a clerk in Kentucky, was the first high profile example of protest when she refused to sign the marriage license of a gay male couple that appeared in her office to apply. After a few short days in jail for refusing to do her civic duty and her ongoing resistance to fulfill the duties of her elected office, Gov. Matt Bevin altered the licenses allowing Davis and other dissenters not to sign. Kentucky then went on to attempt to pass a “separate-but-not-equal bill” that was ultimately rejected (and notably, not even supported by Davis).

More recently, after Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal vetoed a bill to shield marriage equality opponents, the governors of North Carolina and Mississippi waded into these controversial waters. North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory signed a bill into a law that banned “anti-discrimination protections based on sexual orientation and requiring transgender people in government buildings and public schools to use bathrooms that match the gender on their birth certificates.” And, Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant signed a broadly-worded bill into law allowing individuals and institutions to deny services to the LGBT community based on their religious beliefs.

The result in North Carolina? Bruce Springsteen cancelled a concert in protest. PayPal withdrew its plan for a $3.6M expansion in Charlotte, NC, an economic repercussion not unlike that faced by Indiana Gov. Mike Pence after his push for the Religious Freedom Restoration Act that would have allowed for denial of services to LGBTQ couples. An additional 120 companies also signed an open letter for repeal of that law. In Mississippi, singer Bryan Adams cancelled a concert and eight companies, including Hyatt Hotels Corporation and Choice Hotels Corp, Inc., have signed an open letter to Gov. Bryant to repeal the bill, HB 1523. With such vocal and consistent support for the past few years, it remains clear that Fortune 500 companies recognize that supporting LGBTQ couples and families is good for business.

And, of course, nationwide, there have been several isolated cases of small business owners who offer wedding services openly discriminating against same-sex couples, only to find that the law was not on their side. Owners of an Illinois-based B & B, for example, just received word that they are on the hook for $80,000 in fees for damages and legal fees. And, Baronelle Stutzman of Arlene’s Flowers in Richland, WA also lost her case (which is currently on appeal), in which she has attempted to argue that she served her gay friend, Rob Ingersoll, happily and creatively until he asked for a wedding arrangement, which, she says, violated her “commitment to Christ.”

Others in the Christian faith disagree with Stutzman. Take, for example, Rev. Michael Tupper of the United Methodist Church, who has been camping out for 175 days to protest the fact that his church, near Kalamazoo, Michigan, had taken action against him for performing same-sex marriages. His hope is that his Protestant colleagues and the leadership in the United Methodist Church will reverse their stance at the upcoming General Conference.

Meanwhile, in the “good news” column, a federal court ruled that Mississippi’s ban on allowing same-sex couples to adopt is unconstitutional. Mississippi was the last state in our union to hold such a law discriminating explicitly against adoptive same-sex headed families so this was a welcome change, celebrated nationwide by the LGBTQ community.

But, what does all of this mean for wedding professionals? Especially those based in the southern/southeastern region of the U.S., where there seems to be more controversy and more time needed to provide space for an understanding that the arrival of marriage equality does not present a challenge to one’s religious beliefs?

What Does This Mean To Wedding Vendors?

The first, and most obvious, is that same-sex couples need you as an ally more than ever. I met a Georgia-based planner from SAS Weddings at WeddingWire World 2016, and she told me the story about a couple who had found her after having been turned away by countless businesses. She stepped in and supported this understandably dejected couple by helping to plan a glorious wedding day that has been featured in numerous blogs.

So, if you are ready, willing, and able to serve same-sex couples and haven’t yet opted-in to list your business on GayWeddings.com, do it right away! If you are interested, but want to learn more, consider watching this expert panel from WeddingWire World 2016, Leading Perspectives In Same-Sex Marriage, facilitated by GayWeddings.com’s own Whitney Teal.

If you belong to a religious institution or community of faith that preaches actively against individuals and couples who identify as LGBTQ, spend some time talking with folks outside of your comfort zone. Do some reading (I recommend HRC’s Religion & Faith Program as an excellent space for common ground). Learn more about the law in your area and, if you plan to turn away a same-sex couple, by all means, PLEASE speak with a lawyer to understand the repercussions, but also the opportunities to serve a same-sex couple well even if the religious beliefs you’ve been taught might lead you to believe, at first blush, that this isn’t possible. I have always found that, where there is a will (and compassion), there is a way.

As a final resource for your consideration, I hope you’ll take a few minutes to listen to this interview with a Jackson, MS-based baker named Mitchell Moore, featured on NPR’s Morning Edition, in the wake of the Mississippi bill being signed into law. As he so astutely points out, his state is struggling with poverty, a crumbling infrastructure, and an obesity crisis, but his legislators have busied themselves with prioritizing and enacting a law allowing them to discriminate against a group of people who are interested in celebrating love.

No matter how you feel on the issue of denial of services, it’s certainly hard to argue with his implication that, with the many serious issues we face as a country, we have bigger fish to fry than denying services to people who love each other.

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