Anti-Gay Michigan Wedding Venue Sues to Derail Discrimination Inquiry

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Friday February 14, 2020

A wedding venue in Michigan came under investigation by the state's Department of Civil Rights for turning away a same-sex couple on the basis of the owner's religious convictions. Now that venue is suing to stop the investigation, claiming that state law does not cover discrimination targeting LGBTQ people.

Reports MLive:

And the law's plain language does not. But the Michigan Department of Civil Rights is operating under an interpretation of the word "sex" - which the law does protect - to include sexual orientation and gender identity.

"Our defense is pretty simple," said David Kallman, an attorney representing the brothers, Jayme Rouch and Ben Rouch, who own the venue, which is called Rouch World. The state's anti-discrimination law, noted Kallman, "does not include sexual orientation or gender identity as protected categories,"

"We obviously hold a different legal opinion than the individuals who filed suit," said Vicki Levengood, a spokesperson for Michigan Department of Civil Rights.

"The Michigan Attorney General's office will defend our position in court and we continue to believe the courts will decide in our favor," Levengood added.

The investigation was prompted by Rouch World's refusal to host the wedding of two brides, Natalie Johnson and Megan Oswalt, according to the suit, the news article said, before going on to add that the state legislature has addressed the issue of adding language to the law that specifically extends protections to LGBTQ people on at least eleven occasions, but attempts to broaden the law's protections have come to nothing so far.

The issue of wedding venues refusing to host same-sex couples has been a recurring one, despite the 2015 Supreme Court finding that American same-sex families have the same right to enter into matrimony - and access the hundreds of rights and protections that comes with marriage - as do their mixed-gender peers.

Americans are not the only ones who face such discrimination. The problem recently acquired an international character when YouTube and television personality, travel blogger, and "Mr. Gay Canada" Josh Rimer took to the Internet last December to share what he said was a "homophobic" experience inflicted on him and his fiancé by a Sheraton hotel in Puerto Vallarta.

The hotel, Rimer told his audience, refused to host his wedding because it involved two grooms.

"This one really takes the cake," Rimer declared on camera. By that, he presumably meant the wedding cake.

Another major hotel chain subsequently stepped in to host Rimer's wedding.

As efforts grow to stymie new anti-discrimination laws and carve out exceptions to existing laws based on religion, LGBTQ people are not the only ones who have found themselves targeted.

Last fall, the owner of a wedding venue cited the Bible in turning away a heterosexual couple because the groom was African American, whereas the bride was white.

The story is very possibly predictive as to what could happen if the federal government under Donald Trump and Mike Pence succeeds in supplanting decades of progress with "religious freedom" laws that are designed to provide special rights to those operating out of religious bias - or any bias, for that matter, that can be justified as arising from "deeply held" beliefs.

The venue owner in the latter case had initially defended her position by citing the Bible but, when challenged, was unable to find any passage in biblical scripture that supported her contention. She later issued an apology, saying, "If I have learned anything from this it would be to know what you're talking about before you open your mouth!"

Such nuances may not be likely to occur to wedding venue operators who accept the narrative that the Bible condemns same-sex couples as "abominations," a mistranslation of a term found in The Book of Leviticus. The original word actually meant "taboo," and applied to ancient Israelites - but not to others.

On the basis of such linguistic, cultural, and interpretive vagaries, some scholars dispute that the Bible actually does condemn LGBTQ people in the broad and absolutist manner that some Christians seem to believe it does.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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