Judge Reopens Market to Christian Farmers Banned Over Same-Sex Marriage Stance; City 'Disappointed'
Last Friday, a federal judge issued a stay, ordering a Michigan city to reopen its farmers market to a Christian couple that was barred from selling apples because they refuse to host same-sex weddings at their orchard, a popular wedding spot. The stay will allow the farmers to sell apples at the market while their lawsuit against the city proceeds.
"The City is disappointed in the Court's ruling," the city of East Lansing declared in a statement on Friday. While the city announced it would consider asking for a stay and appealing the ruling, it nevertheless agreed to comply with the judge's order to allow the couple to sell apples.
"This isn't just about our ability to sell at the farmers market, it's really about every American's right to be able to make a living and not have to worry about the fear of being punished by the government," Steve Tennes, owner of Country Mill, told The Daily Signal in a video interview.
After seven years of serving "people of all backgrounds and beliefs," Tennes recalled that last year, a Facebook user asked whether Country Mill would host a same-sex wedding.
"Due to our personal religious beliefs, we do not participate in the celebration of a same sex union," Country Mill responded on Facebook. "We have and will continue to respectfully direct wedding inquiries to another mid-Michigan orchard that has more experience in hosting same sex weddings. We welcome all customers for our other activities and products on the farm. We have friends, family and business associates in the LGBT community."
As if this measured response were not enough, Country Mill added, "We respect other people's beliefs and we can only hope that others will respect ours. We have always tried our best to be respectful in this area."
Even so, East Lansing took the extraordinary step of excluding the couple from the farmers market, citing the Facebook post.
In his ruling, U.S. District Judge Paul Maloney said East Lansing likely violated Tennes' rights to free speech and the free exercise of religion, The Associated Press reported. The judge noted that East Lansing became aware of Tennes' position and then changed its rules to require vendors to comply with the city's civil rights ordinance. Country Mill is 22 miles away in another county.
"The context in which the vendor guidelines were amended and then applied to Country Mill supports plaintiffs' claim that their religious beliefs or their religiously motivated conduct was the target of the city's actions," Maloney said.
During arguments on Wednesday, East Lansing's attorney Michael Bogren said the city had reacted to Tennes' conduct, not his speech or religion.