Shea: Same-sex marriage legislation could open wedding industry, businesses to lawsuits

As hundreds of people gathered Monday at the state Capitol for public hearings in the House and Senate on same-sex marriage in Washington, Rep. Matt Shea warned if the proposed legislation becomes law, it could open businesses to lawsuits if they refuse services for same-sex weddings.

Shea, an attorney, pointed to several cases across the nation, including a wedding photographer in New Mexico who was sued for refusing to shoot a commitment ceremony and was later ordered to pay nearly $7,000 in legal fees.

“Very clearly, private businesses would be subjected to massive new lawsuits if they decide to exercise their conscience and refuse to participate in a same-sex marriage ceremony. The House and Senate bills provide no protection against these kinds of lawsuits,” said Shea, R-Spokane Valley.

Shea noted businesses that could be affected by the legislation include, but are not limited to:

  • Bakers and decorators who make wedding cakes;
  • Photographers, videographers and DJs;
  • Owners of private facilities who rent space for ceremonial events;
  • Tuxedo rental and wedding dress stores;
  • Seamstresses and tailors;
  • Party favor and rental companies;
  • Hotels and caterers; and more.

“This is about more than same-sex marriage. It is about religious liberty. Article 1, Section 11 of the Washington State Constitution says ‘absolute freedom of conscience in all matters of religious sentiment, belief and worship, shall be guaranteed to every individual.’ These are some of the strongest words of any state in the nation that Washington’s founders wrote to protect the right of conscience, yet the proponents of same-sex marriage believe sexual rights should come before religious liberty,” noted Shea. “President Obama’s pick for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Chai Feldman, who is the nation’s foremost attorney on same-sex marriage, is quoted as saying, ‘There can be a conflict between religious liberty and sexual liberty, but in almost all cases the sexual liberty should win.’ I strongly disagree. This country and our state were not founded on sexual liberty. They were founded on religious liberty.”

Shea also quoted Article XXVI of the Washington State Constitution that sets a compact with the United States and states: “That perfect toleration of religious sentiment shall be secured and that no inhabitant of this state shall ever be molested in person or property on account of his or her mode of religious worship.”

Shea believes the proposed legislation, Senate Bill 6239 and House Bill 2516, are both unconstitutional and would likely be challenged in court if adopted.

“Same-sex couples in Washington state already have the same rights as heterosexual couples under a domestic partnership law that was passed in 2009. However, only one-quarter of one percent of Washington citizens have registered as domestic partners,” added Shea. “I’m very concerned that under this legislation, less than one percent of the state’s population could stifle the religious liberty of the remaining 99 percent and expose countless businesses that object by conscience to expensive and endless lawsuits.”

Senate Bill 6239 is under consideration by the Senate Government Operations, Tribal Relations and Elections Committee. The House Judiciary Committee is considering House Bill 2516.

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Washington State House Republican Communications