An orchard farmer near East Lansing, Mich., has been banned from selling his products at the city’s farmer’s market because he won’t allow gay marriage ceremonies on his property.
The orchard owner, Stephen Tennes, does not discriminate against anyone when selling his product at the market. But he said in several Facebook posts that his business, located in Charlotte, Mich., would not host same-sex marriages on his property.
As a result, East Lansing passed an ordinance barring businesses that discriminate from the market.
“Contrary to this policy and the constitutionally protected rights of all couples, The Country Mill has advertised that their business practice is to prohibit same-sex couples from holding weddings at their orchard in Charlotte, MI,” the city statement read. “Their business practices violate the City of East Lansing’s long-standing ordinance that protects sexual orientation as well as the Supreme Court’s ruling that grants the right for same-sex couples to be married.”
Tennes, a Roman Catholic, shared his belief that marriage is solely between a man and a woman in a Facebook post on Aug. 24, 2016, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit further alleges the city, upon finding the post, immediately took action to remove The Country Mill from the Farmer’s Market.
“First, City officials pressured Country Mill to leave the Market, telling the Tennes family that because of their statement of their religious beliefs (1) the City did not want them at the Market that coming Sunday and (2) people would protest and disrupt the Market if Country Mill continued to participate in it,” the lawsuit alleges.
“When Country Mill decided to attend the remaining two months of the Farmer’s Market season, which they did without any protests or disruptions, East Lansing stopped asking Country Mill to leave and started work to ban Country Mill by City Policy.”
East Lansing City Manager George Lahanas confirmed the city had asked Country Mill to voluntarily leave the market place after looking into the post.
“They said they still wanted to come and then they came back (and) said we will not do any weddings at all, so therefore there would be no discrimination because we’re not doing weddings,” Lahanas said. “We said that was satisfactory and they were free to come to the farmer’s market.”
However, The Country Mill backtracked on its wedding policy as Tennes reopened the orchard to hosting marriages, though only for opposite-sex couples, according to a December, 12, 2016 Facebook post.
“The Country Mill family and its staff have and will continue to participate in hosting the ceremonies held at our orchard. It remains our deeply held religious belief that marriage is the union of one man and one woman and Country Mill has the First Amendment Right to express and act upon its beliefs,” the post read.
Can a local government ban a business located outside of its jurisdiction because they do not adhere to the city’s applicable discrimination laws? The East Lansing government is dictating what a property owner can do on his own property. No other East Lansing ordinance applies to the orchard. Suppose Tennes was violating a city ordinance on trash collection or use of pesticides. Would the city be able to ban him from selling his products at the market?
The issue, though, is religious freedom. Tennes is a Catholic and would be at odds with church teachings on marriage if he allowed same-sex ceremonies on his personal property. The city is arguing that his original solution was fine, that not holding any marriage ceremonies on his property put him in compliance with the law.
But Tennes is arguing he is being singled out and punished for his religious beliefs. It’s difficult to say which way this case will be decided. It’s a unique situation and other factors may enter into a judge’s decision than those mentioned here.
The case points to the over-zealousness of gay marriage proponents and their desire to punish people for beliefs they consider “wrong.”