Court Rules In Favor Of Farmer Banned From Market Over Same-Sex Marriage Opposition

[Screenshot/YouTube/Michigan Farm Bureau]

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A federal district court ruled Monday in favor of a Michigan fruit farmer who was banned in 2017 from selling his produce at a local market due to his views on same-sex marriage.

U.S. District Judge Paul Maloney ruled that the city of East Lansing had violated the rights of Country Mill Farms owner Steve Tennes when they banned him from selling produce at its seasonal farmer’s market due to his refusal to allow same-sex weddings at his orchard, The Associated Press (AP) reported.

The legal battle began after Tennes responded to a question about gay weddings posted to the farm’s Facebook page. Tennes answered that his Catholic faith prevented him from hosting same-sex weddings on his farm, citing “deeply held religious belief that marriage is a union of one man and one woman and Country Mill has the First Amendment right to express and act upon its beliefs.” (RELATED: Judge Rules Bakeshop Owner Doesn’t Have to Bake Wedding Cake For Gay Couple)

In response, the city of East Lansing barred Tennes and his farm from selling produce at the farmer’s market, citing its non-discrimination ordinance and vendor rules, even though Tennes had never stopped anyone from purchasing produce at his stand, AP reported.

“Plaintiffs were forced to choose between following their religious beliefs and a government benefit for which they were otherwise qualified,” Maloney ruled, according to the outlet. The judge went on to explain that forcing Tennes to choose between his faith and his ability to sell produce violated his “free exercise rights.”

“The reason is simple: denying a person an equal share of the rights, benefits, and privileges enjoyed by other citizens because of her faith discourages religious activity,” Maloney wrote in his decision, according to a press release from the conservative Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), which filed the lawsuit on behalf of Country Mill Farms in 2017.

Maloney also pointed out that East Lansing’s “non-discrimination ordinance tolerates the same discrimination in other situations,” according to AP.

“Tennes and Country Mill Farms are grateful for the court’s decision protecting religious liberty,” ADF Senior Counsel Kate Anderson said of the ruling. “At the same time, they are eager to mend fences with current city officials and get back to doing what Country Mill does best—as expressed in its mission statement: ‘glorifying God by facilitating family fun on the farm and feeding families.'”