Why Wedding Venues In Pennsylvania Can Still Legally Discriminate Against Same-Sex Couples

The Inne of the Abingtons’ garden pavilion and gazebo. CREDIT: THEINNE.COM
The Inne of the Abingtons’ garden pavilion and gazebo. CREDIT: THEINNE.COM

The Inne of the Abingtons, located just north of Scranton, Pennsylvania, boasts on its website that it has been voted “best wedding reception venue” and “best outdoor ceremony location,” but only different-sex couples currently have the opportunity to see if the commendations are warranted. Though Pennsylvania now allows for same-sex marriage, the venue refuses to allow same-sex couples to hold their weddings or receptions there — and such discrimination is perfectly legal in Pennsylvania.

Desiree Mark was thrilled to not have to travel to another state to marry her partner, but was disappointed when her inquiry to the Inne prompted a response refusing her patronage. The email, which has been shared on Facebook more than 1,000 times, informed the couple, “Unfortunately, we do not hold same sex marriages at our facility.” The email did not provide an explanation as to why, but did express hope that the couple might find “somewhere that will fulfill all your wedding dreams.”

The Inne has made no public comment on the matter, but WNEP did report that the owner believes the negative feedback has been “blown out of proportion.” Some are now calling for a boycott of the wedding venue.

In Pennsylvania, the Inne’s discrimination is perfectly legal. When the commonwealth became the 19th marriage equality state earlier this year, it also became the first state to offer same-sex marriage but absolutely no nondiscrimination protections for the LGBT community. In Pennsylvania, it is legal to fire, refuse housing, and deny service to individuals just because of their sexual orientation and gender identity.

Last year, Pennsylvania lawmakers introduced a sweeping bill that would have established these protections, but it has yet to advance. As Equality Pennsylvania Executive Director Ted Martin forebodingly explained to ThinkProgress at the time, the bill has been a bigger priority than marriage because nothing would protect same-sex couples after they take the visible step of marrying:

MARTIN: Let’s say Pennsylvania passes marriage equality but not these other protections. On Saturday, I could get hitched. But on Saturday night, I could be denied service at the hotel because there aren’t public accommodations protections. On Tuesday, I could put a picture from the wedding on my desk at work and get fired because there aren’t employment protections. On Wednesday, my landlord could see me helping my husband move in and kick us out of our home because there aren’t housing protections. On Thursday, I’m living in a refrigerator box under a bridge.

The Pennsylvania conflict reflects conversations happening at the national level that are specifically about creating employment protections for LGBT. Many conservatives are calling for exemptions that would allow religious beliefs to justify continuing discrimination against people for their sexual orientation or gender identity. Some groups are merely asking for exemptions for religious organizations, but there are other groups for whom the exemptions could then be expanded. The Hobby Lobby decision suggests any private company might have grounds to use religious beliefs for anti-LGBT discrimination, and Republicans in Congress have actually suggested legislation that would allow any individual to refuse to recognize a same-sex couple’s legal marriage.

Pennsylvania’s progress as a marriage equality state is helping to shine a light on the discrimination LGBT people still experience across the country.