Gavel - LawCall

After the Supreme Court last week ruled same-sex marriage legal in all fifty states, a Tennessee man is taking exception. But is what he’s doing legal?

Jeff Amyx, a Baptist minister, owns Amyx Hardware and Roofing Supplies in Grainger County, Tennessee. He has put up a sign on his store’s front door that says, “No gays allowed”. He says he put up the sign because his religious beliefs are that marriage is between one man and one woman, and he is religiously opposed to gay and lesbian couples.

But what about anti-discrimination laws, wouldn’t they apply here? It would seem that such laws work best when there is widespread prejudice; if the whole city is refusing to serve you if you’re black or gay, and you have nowhere else to go for the services or products you need.

If you remember the Indiana case with Memories Pizza where the owners said their faith would not allow them to cater an event for a gay or lesbian wedding. Their refusal was specific to gay marriage; they had no problem serving gay people who were patrons of their restaurant.

Not Amyx – he’s refusing to do business with gays or lesbians on any level, and in fact, does not want them coming into his hardware store. He has changed his sign a bit since the story broke; he has replaced the “No gays allowed” sign with another sign that says, “We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone who would violate our rights of freedom of speech and freedom of religion.”

This will be one of the issues that may become germane after last week’s Supreme Court ruling. Currently, thirty-one states don’t fully ban discrimination against sexual orientation or gender identity. In some states you can be fired for being gay, you can be refused housing for being a lesbian and a hotel manager may deny lodging to a transgender, for instance.

In Tennessee, Amyx is totally within his legal rights to post the sign and to enforce it. Some people may not like it, but there is nothing legally that can be done about it.

What do you think? Does a business owner have the right to deny service to anyone?

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