Scranton Venue Says No to Same-Sex Weddings
When a Pennsylvania inn refused to hold a same-sex wedding for two lesbians, the outrage on social media only served to highlight the fact that while gays and lesbians can legally wed in the Keystone State, they can just as legally be discriminated against in public accommodations.
The Times-Tribune reported that when 29-year-old Desiree Mark of Greenfield Township called Inne at Abingtons to ask about holding their wedding, they were very politely -- and legally -- refused.
"Unfortunately, we do not hold same sex marriages at our facility. I truly do hope you find somewhere that will fulfill all your wedding dreams," read the email from Courtney Killeen, wedding and event planner for Inne at the Abingtons. "I don't agree with it," added Killeen, noting that the owner, John O. Antolick, would be unlikely to comment publicly. The Times-Tribune said Antolick did not respond to several requests for an interview.
Molly Tack-Hooper, staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union, called it "the most polite example of anti-gay discrimination I've ever seen."
Because Pennsylvania doesn't have legal protections for LGBTs, any business can legally refuse to serve them, to the incredulity of Mark's mother, Francie Adams who said, "What do they mean? This is discrimination. It's not right."
The incident caused an outcry on social media, after Marks posted it to her Facebook page. But it was no surprise to John Dawe, executive director of the NEPA Rainbow Alliance, who said, "They think there is no way this -- a business saying 'no gay people here' -- can be legal. They want to sue and make a point."
But the real issue here is the lack of protections for gays, which the proposed House and Senate Bill 300 could ensure by prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity or expression in employment, housing and public accommodations.
"This is the same discrimination we have fought for decades, and the purpose of this legislation is to prevent it," said state Rep. Sid Michaels Kavulich, D-114th, who is a cosponsor of the legislation. "Chances are better we will see action on this because of the court decisions, the number of co-sponsors and growing public support."
Pennsylvania is the only state where same-sex couples enjoy marriage equality without basic civil rights.
"We wouldn't tell a person of color to just go eat somewhere else, or tell a woman to just apply for some other job," said Lavana Layendecker, spokeswoman for Equality Pennsylvania, a Harrisburg-based LGBT lobbying group. "Denying people housing, employing or accommodation is fundamentally wrong and fundamentally un-American."
Despite gains in marriage equality, refusal of services to LGBTs is still a common occurrence. EDGE reported on a baker ordered by the Colorado Civil Rights Commission in May to make wedding cakes for same-sex couples, despite his religious objections. Ironically, gay marriage is still illegal in Colorado, but state law prohibits businesses from refusing service based on sexual orientation.
A similar situation in January found a Portland baker guilty of violating the civil rights of a lesbian couple by refusing to bake their wedding cake. The Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries found substantial evidence that Sweet Cakes by Melissa had violated state law by discriminating against the women.
Same-sex marriage is not legal in Oregon, either; in 2004, voters amended the state constitution to define marriage as a union between one man and one woman, prompting the bakers' lawyer Herbert Grey to say, "They're being punished by the state of Oregon for refusing to participate in an event that the state of Oregon does not recognize."
Discrimination notwithstanding, Grey is right; the LGBT community deserves more than a patchwork quilt of rights.