An Ohio Christian business owner and ordained minister filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday against Cuyahoga County over a law that requires her to officiate same-sex weddings in violation of her religious beliefs.
Kristi Stokes, the plaintiff in the case, is an ordained minister and the owner of Covenant Weddings, from which she officiates weddings and composes wedding homilies, vows and prayers for such ceremonies.
At issue is a Cuyahoga County law that prohibits discrimination in places of public accommodation on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and expression. The law presumably applies to Covenant Weddings because it defines a “place of public accommodation” as any “place for the sale of merchandise to the public, or any other place of public accommodation or amusement where the accommodation advantages, facilities, or privileges thereof are available to the public.”
Stokes, an evangelical Christian, could be fined up to $5,000 per violation for not officiating at a same-sex wedding. Covenant Weddings is a for-profit business.
The law also prohibits her from explaining her religious views on her business website.
Alliance Defending Freedom is representing Stokes.
“Because Kristi offers wedding services that celebrate marriage between one biological man and one biological woman, the County says she must also provide the same services for weddings that contradict her beliefs or Kristi commits illegal ‘discrimination,’” the suit says. “... In reality, Kristi gladly works with people regardless of who they are, including LGBT individuals. She just cannot officiate or bless every marital union.”
Just as imams “should not be forced to officiate Christian weddings” and LGBT artists should not “be forced to” condemn same-sex marriage, Stokes should not be forced to officiate at a same-sex wedding, the suit says.
“The County’s law has left Kristi with an impossible choice: disobey the law, defy her faith, desecrate her ministry, or ditch her business,” the suit says.
The lawsuit alleges violations of Stokes’ constitutionally protected freedoms of speech, association, religion and press.
“No one should be forced to officiate ceremonies that conflict with their religious beliefs,” said ADF senior counsel Kate Anderson. “... Many different religions and countless people of good will believe that weddings are sacred ceremonies between one man and one woman. No matter one’s views on marriage, we all lose when bureaucrats can force citizens to participate in religious ceremonies they oppose, speak messages they disagree with, and stay silent about beliefs they hold dear.”
Mary Louise Madigan, a spokeswoman for the county, told The Plain Dealer the county would “vigorously defend” the law.
“It’s an important piece of legislation written and passed to ensure equal access and opportunity for all citizens of Cuyahoga County,” Madigan said.
Photo courtesy: ©Alliance Defending Freedom
Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.