GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — After receiving several complaints, the City of Grand Rapids is now investigating whether the owners of The Broadway Avenue Wedding and Event Venue are violating a human rights ordinance by refusing to hold LGBTQIA+ marriages.
"It is clearly in violation of the Grand Rapids municipal civil city ordinance," says Kirsten Holz, an attorney with Levine and Levine.
That ordinance, adopted by the city in 2019, says individuals can not be discriminated against on the basis of several protected classes, including sexual orientation.
While many have taken to social media to say they have the right to deny service as a private business, Holz says that's not true.
"The fact that there are privately-owned business means nothing," she says.
That's because the venue is a public accommodation, as defined by American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan attorney Jay Kaplan.
"Which would include businesses, like the wedding event place, it's open to the public," says Kaplan.
Kaplan cites a 2018 U.S. Supreme Court case, the court ruling the owner of a bakery was wrong for denying a gay couple a wedding cake.
"They said that when you hold yourself out to the public, you can't put a sign, you know, picking and choosing who you're going to provide services to," says Kaplan.
When we spoke to the owners of The Broadway Avenue on Monday night, they said they have no intention of changing their stance.
"We're not in charge of catering to people, we want to serve our God," says owner Hannah Natale. "We're going to stand for him always in any of our business decisions."
But Kaplan says religious beliefs are not a protected reason for discrimination.
"You're certainly entitled to hold your sincerely held religious beliefs," says Kaplan. "But that doesn't render you exempt from state civil rights laws."
Holz agrees, saying she believes the business has dug itself into a deep hole.
"They are saying on one hand, we're not going to allow LGBTQIA couples to get married here, but we would allow people who had been previously divorced or had children out of wedlock," says Holz. "They're very clearly tailoring their policy to discriminate against one specific class."
Holz says under the Grand Rapids ordinance, the business could be fined for being in violation.
We reached out to the owners of The Broadway Avenue again for this story. They say while they have no new comment, they are talking with their legal team.
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