Michigan Farmer Sues City After Farmers Market Booted Him for Not Hosting Same Sex Weddings

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By Emily Zanotti | 2:21 pm, June 1, 2017
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A Michigan farmer has filed a lawsuit against the city of East Lansing after officials there banned him from their farmers market over his views on gay marriage.

Steve Tennes and his wife, Bridget, operate a 120-acre farm in Charlotte, Michigan, and sell their crops to locals at nearby farmers markets on the weekends.

But last year, the Tennes family posted on their farm’s Facebook page that while they hold events on their property, because of their Christian beliefs, they wouldn’t be hosting any more weddings. A few months later, they revised that policy to say that they would not be hosting any same-sex weddings.

The city of East Lansing, about 20 miles away from the Tennes’  farm, caught wind of the Tennes family’s objections and suggested they refrain from selling their fruits and vegetables at the East Lansing farmers market, because they might face protests.

When no protests materialized, East Lansing officials banned the Tennes family from the farmers market altogether, citing a city policy that bans businesses from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation. They said their decision wasn’t about religious beliefs but about the farm’s “business decision” to discriminate.

“This is about them operating a business that discriminates against LGBT individuals, and that’s a whole different issue,” the East Lansing mayor claimed.

Now Tennes and his wife are suing the city for what they claim is also discrimination —this time on the basis of religion.

The legality of the city’s actions isn’t clear cut. Although they did appear to discriminate against the Tennes family—likely a violation of the First Amendment’s protections—in cases like this, municipalities usually claim that businesses operating within their borders are “public accommodations,” which can’t turn away paying customers for any reason.

But it’s also hard for the city to argue that religious beliefs didn’t play into their decision. After all, the farm’s “business decision” is based entirely on religious beliefs.

There’s also the matter of recent, post-Trump inauguration events. In recent weeks, progressives have routinely tried to ban individuals from places of public accommodation over ideology.

A gym in Virginia booted alt-right leader Richard Spencer after a patron loudly objected to his presence in the weight room (a decision the patron then defended in several major newspapers). And a number of social justice warriors lost their marbles when they found out Alamo Drafthouse couldn’t legally exclude men from a “female-only” screening of Wonder Woman.

Progressives have been unwittingly supporting the “right to exclude”—though they may not be as enthusiastic when they learn it might mean others get to exclude them.