A tax preparer in Indiana refused to serve a same-sex couple this month, objecting on the grounds that her religious beliefs reject same-sex marriage. Such discrimination is totally legal, and shines a light on the stasis in which LGBTQ rights have been suspended since the state’s 2015 “religious liberty” debacle.
Bailey and Samantha Brazzel married last July and were preparing to file their taxes jointly for the first time. Last week, they sought the assistance of Nancy Fivecoate, owner of Carter Tax Service in Russiaville, who Bailey had used the past four years. But Fivecoate refused to do their taxes because they were married. She told WTHR that “the problem was not being gay, it’s being married.”
In a statement she then released, Fivecoate insisted that she has gay clients, but as a Christian she cannot prepare a married same-sex couple’s taxes. “The LGBT [sic] want respect for their beliefs, which I give them,” she claimed. “I did not say anything about their lifestyle. That is their choice. It is not my choice. Where is their respect for my beliefs?”
Bailey was astonished by the discrimination. “I went in to file my taxes, that was it…it’s all I wanted,” she said. “We don’t have an issue with her. We don’t think she’s a terrible person,” Bailey said. “But we’re not the only ones this happens to and it’s wrong and something needs to be done about it.”
The couple later issued their own statement, explaining, “All we really want is for it to shed light on the fact that there aren’t any laws protecting the LGBT community from discrimination. Marriage equality has been the law of the land since 2015, and yet businesses can deny services because of our marriage. That isn’t right.”
Indiana is one of 26 states that have no state-wide nondiscrimination protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. There are, however, four counties and well over a dozen towns or cities that offer the protections at the local level.
“If they lived 15 miles away in a city with a human rights ordinance [Kokomo], it would be actionable,” Richard Sutton told ThinkProgress. “That’s the sad fact.” Sutton founded Freedom Indiana, the now-defunct organization that lobbied for LGBTQ equality across the state.
He explained that small towns in Indiana are still unwelcoming places for LGBTQ people, and advocates like him encourage young people to flee them. “Look for a city with protections, so if you face that kind of dilemma that threatens your way of life, your health, your education, or your job, you have remedies.”
“In some cases, it’s to save their lives,” he added.
According to Sutton, the state has been incredibly polarized on LGBTQ issues since the 2015 fight over the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). Lawmakers passed a law that granted a religious exemption to discriminate — encouraging such discrimination and essentially overriding the local ordinances. After a national outcry over the stigmatizing legislation, lawmakers approved an amendment ensuring RFRA could not be used to justify anti-LGBTQ discrimination, but the battle lines had been drawn.
“The RFRA situation changed the landscape here forever,” Sutton explained. “RFRA divided us like nothing before. The religious right likes to shout out about cases like this. There is no soft middle anymore. I think that’s sad, because I think a lot of people would live and let live and not make a fuss before.”
The Brazzels’ discrimination story is making headlines just as the Indiana Senate, abiding the lobbying of an anti-LGBTQ hate group, has neutered a hate crimes bill by stripping it of the protected categories that would allow it to be enforced.
Sutton sees the RFRA fight, the hate crimes bill debate, and the tax preparation discrimination case as all being connected. He’s already heard from opponents of LGBTQ equality who are worried that Fivecoate will be forced out of business, but he believes she’ll actually gain business.
“It’s not going to change until people change, until we get rid of people in power who think that way — and that’s not happening anytime soon,” he said.