An Annapolis, Md., company whose old-fashioned trolleys are iconic in the city's wedding scene has abandoned the nuptial industry rather than serve same-sex couples.
The owner of Discover Annapolis Tours said he decided to walk away from $50,000 in annual revenue instead of compromising his Christian convictions when same-sex marriages become legal in Maryland in less than a week. And he has urged prospective clients to lobby state lawmakers for a religious exemption for wedding vendors.
While many wedding businesses across the country have embraced the chance to serve same-sex couples, others have struggled to balance religious beliefs against business interests.
Wedding vendors elsewhere who refused to accommodate same-sex couples have faced discrimination lawsuits — and lost. Legal experts said Discover Annapolis Tours sidesteps legal trouble by avoiding all weddings.
“If they're providing services to the public, they can't discriminate who they provide their services to,” said Glendora Hughes, general counsel for the Maryland Commission on Civil Rights. The commission enforces public accommodation laws that prohibit businesses from discriminating on the basis of race, sexual orientation and other characteristics.
The trolley company's decision offers a snapshot of a local business navigating a new landscape in the wedding industry, and leaving it behind for a competitor to swoop in.
The head of the Maryland Wedding Professionals Association said the trolley company is the second vendor to refuse business over the state's same-sex marriage law, which voters upheld in November. The Maryland clergyman who led opposition to same-sex marriage called the trolley company's choice to abandon profits on principle “gutsy” and predicted that more businesses would follow suit.
“That's a bold and noble statement,” said Derek McCoy, executive director of the Maryland Marriage Alliance. “The other option would have been just to become a legal case.”
Frank Schubert, a political strategist who ran campaigns against same-sex marriage in Maryland and three other states this year, said opponents predicted collateral damage.
“This is exactly what happens,” Schubert said, adding that religious liberty is “right in the cross hairs of this debate. The law doesn't protect people of faith. It simply doesn't.”
Schubert pointed to a handful of other examples publicized in news reports across the country of wedding vendors sued for refusing to accommodate a same-sex ceremony: a pair of Vermont innkeepers, a New Jersey church group and a New Mexico wedding photographer.
In Maryland, the gay-rights group Equality Maryland said the trolley company's decision appears to be an isolated case of a business owner exercising his rights.
“As long as he doesn't discriminate against other people, he's free to do whatever he wants to do, including withdrawing his business from the industry,” executive director Carrie Evans said.
Discover Annapolis Tours owner Matt Grubbs declined repeated requests to discuss the move, beyond acknowledging its economic impact to his business, which also operates historic tours.