One of the more farfetched attempts to use religion to discriminate is on display in a case working its way through the New York courts. The owners of a commercial wedding venue refused to rent their venue to a same-sex couple who wanted to use it for their wedding. Unsurprisingly, the New York Division of Human Rights concluded that the wedding venue's refusal to rent to the couple violated the state's antidiscrimination law.
The wedding venue has appealed the decision, and they argue that various provisions of the First Amendment gave them a right to discriminate against the couple. Oral argument was held today.
Over the summer, we filed a friend-of-the-court brief supporting enforcement of antidiscrimination law against the venue, and pointing out the remarkable implications of the wedding venue's argument:
In short, accepting the Farm’s argument would allow nearly any business alleging similar concerns to discriminate as it pleased. Gay men, lesbians, and members of other protected classes would not know which businesses they could patronize, and could not expect the law to consistently protect their rights to access public accommodations on the same terms as other citizens. In some communities, same-sex couples “might be forced to pick their merchants carefully, like black families driving across the South half a century ago.” Wilson & Singer, supra, at 16–17. Nothing in the First Amendment—not the right to free speech, not the right to free exercise, and not the right to association—requires such retrogression.
Just as the First Amendment doesn't allow this business to exclude interracial couples, the First Amendment doesn't give it the right to discriminate against same-sex couples either.
Greg Lipper (@theglipper) is Senior Litigation Counsel at Americans United.