Lesbian Wants to Say “I Do” but Bridal Shop Says “We Don’t”
Almost every woman has fantasized about her wedding day from the time she was a little girl – the music, the cake, the bouquet, and most important of all – the dress. This was certainly the case for Alix Genter, who was looking forward to finding the perfect dress when she walked into the New Jersey store Here Comes the Bride.
Ms. Genter’s entourage for the shopping expedition included several close friends and family members. It was a joyous occasion, with the mother of the bride even packing little gift bags with muffins, morning snacks and a bottle of champagne for the outing. Everything was going well, and Ms. Genter found the dress of her dreams. Full of excitement, she filled out the order form, and replaced the word “groom” with “partner,” indicating her wife-to-be. And that’s when things took a turn for the peculiar. The manager of the store called a few days later to inform her that it would not be supplying her dress because she’s gay.
According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, Donna, the store manager, claimed that she refused business with Ms. Genter because she didn’t want to “participate in any illegal actions” — same-sex marriage is illegal in New Jersey. The lesbian couple hasn’t sued yet, but we wondered, what would happen if charges were filed in this case?
Our answer: The store would probably lose.
To begin with, there are state statutes that protect people from this kind of discrimination. Under the Division on Civil Rights for the state of New Jersey, it’s unlawful for someone to refuse to sell to or otherwise do business with someone else because of that person’s sexual orientation, marital status, domestic partnership status or civil union status.
In addition, courts tend to rule in favor of the victims in this kind of discrimination lawsuit. In a 2007 California case, same-sex domestic partners sued operators of ParentProfiles.com, an adoption-related website, for rejecting their application for an online profile. The court found that the Unruh Act (a Civil Rights Act similar to that of New Jersey’s) prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation or marital status.
But the record on this kind of behavior is not without exceptions. In a 1995 case, the Supreme Court sided with the organizers of a St. Patrick’s Day parade, who refused to allow the Irish-American Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Group of Boston to participate in the festivities. The Court stated that to compel inclusion of the group would “violate the fundamental First Amendment rule that a speaker [here, the parade organizers] has the autonomy to choose the content of his own message and, conversely, to decide what not to say.”
Luckily for Ms. Genter, this decision would have little to no bearing on her case. A bridal shop is clearly a commercial enterprise and is covered under the New Jersey statute that makes it illegal for anyone to refuse to sell to or otherwise do business with an individual because of her domestic partnership, civil union status or sexual orientation.
Two recent cases more closely resemble Ms. Genter’s situation. In the first, a court in New Mexico found in favor of a lesbian, who, like Ms. Genter, was planning a wedding. A photographer from Elane Photography was sued for discrimination after refusing to take pictures of the women’s marriage ceremony. The owners of the company argued that gay marriage went against their religious beliefs, but that argument didn’t fly. The court found in favor of the couple because under the New Mexico Human Rights Act, a public company can’t refuse its services to someone based solely on that person’s sexual orientation.
In the second case, the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights found that a ministry organization violated the state’s anti-discrimination law by refusing to let two homosexual couples use its pavilion for their civil union ceremonies. The New Jersey law applies to all places of public accommodation and the pavilion falls into that category, because it’s available for public use, and not distinctly private.
Both cases are currently on appeal.
Ms. Genter’s wedding will take place in New York, where same-sex marriage has been legalized. But even if the couple had the ceremony in New Jersey, it’s not as if the store would get in trouble for aiding and abetting same-sex nuptials – it’s not a crime to be gay in this country. In a landmark 2003 case, the Supreme Court decriminalized homosexuality, holding that an anti-sodomy statute in Texas was unconstitutional because it deprived people of the liberties afforded to them by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
As small-minded as the store manager’s actions may be, she isn’t the only one shocking (at least some parts of) the country with her discriminatory actions. According to Gawker, a woman advertising items for sale on Craigslist announced that she would not sell to homosexuals, Muslims or illegal immigrants, and Change.org reported on a bakery in Indianapolis that refused to sell rainbow cupcakes to gay students.
Across the nation, the fight for marriage equality may be far from over, but we note that courts are siding with the victims of sexual-preference discrimination, at least in the business context.