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A business lesson in tolerance

The owner of a trolley tour company in Annapolis, Md., doesn't want to serve gay couples. OK. But seeking an exemption from anti-discrimination laws goes too far.

December 28, 2012
  • A cake topper of two women sits atop a cake at a bachelorette party for the couple in New York.
A cake topper of two women sits atop a cake at a bachelorette party for the… (Tina Fineberg / Associated…)

The owner of a trolley tour company in Annapolis, Md., has decided to close down one portion of his business — old-fashioned trolleys for wedding parties — rather than extend the service to same-sex couples. He has every right to do so, but he should knock off his attempts to persuade lawmakers to sanction his real hope: to discriminate against gay couples in his business.

Matt Grubbs owns Discover Annapolis Tours and says his Christian beliefs conflict with providing services to same-sex couples. He'd rather not serve them.

That created a problem, however. Once a business is open to the public, it cannot discriminate against racial or religious minorities or other protected groups — which in Maryland, as in California, includes gays. Grubbs' choice thus was simple: Either offer the service to all or get into another line of work. He chose to close.

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Unfortunately, Grubbs now is trying something else. He has urged potential clients to push for a legislative exemption to non-discrimination laws for wedding vendors. That's important to nip in the bud. States can't pick and choose so that some people can discriminate against gay people or discriminate against them under certain circumstances. That's as unconscionable as denying service to interracial couples or those of other religions.

Religious institutions rightly cannot be required to perform same-sex weddings; religious freedom is embedded in the U.S. Constitution. But although there is an inherent right to practice one's religion, that right does not extend to discrimination in a place of business that by its nature serves the general public. Those are bedrock principles and should not be tampered with.

Meanwhile, many businesspeople in the wedding trade are taking a different approach, welcoming same-sex marriage as a chance to expand. It brings with it a whole new clientele, and it's not necessary to personally approve of individual customers in order to accept their rights and welcome their business. Or, as the owner of a Baltimore limousine company put it, "A doctor doesn't have to like you to take care of you." The owner, Gary Day — who is gay and in a long-term relationship — has supplied extra trolleys to Grubbs for large wedding parties. With Grubbs' departure from the wedding trolley business, Day expects to fill that gap.

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