An evangelical Christian officiant in Ohio will not be forced to perform same-sex wedding ceremonies, per an agreement with county officials approved by a district court.
Kristi Stokes, owner of Covenant Weddings, sued Cuyahoga County earlier this year over a law that barred places of public accommodation from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
In a proposed judgment entry filed last Friday, both parties agreed that the law would not apply to Stokes and her company, as they would not be identified as a place of public accommodation.
“Even if Plaintiffs’ services could be considered a place of public accommodation, the Accommodations Clause does not mandate or force Kristi Stokes, or any other minister, to officiate or solemnize weddings against their sincerely held religious beliefs,” noted the agreement.
“Even if Plaintiffs’ services could be considered a place of public accommodation, the ‘Accommodations Clause’ does not mandate or force Kristi Stokes or Covenant Weddings LLC to author specific prayers, homilies, vows, or other writings that are inconsistent with their sincerely held religious beliefs.”
Johannes Widmalm-Delphonse of Alliance Defending Freedom, which represented Stokes, released a statement last Friday celebrating the agreement between the two parties.
“Cuyahoga County’s law made Kristi face an impossible choice: disobey the law, defy her own faith, or ditch her business. She no longer faces that choice,” stated Widmalm-Delphonse.
“We commend Cuyahoga County for understanding and respecting this essential American freedom and acting quickly to ensure that Kristi and countless others need not fear punishment for merely living and speaking consistent with their conscience.”
In July, Stokes filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio over an anti-discrimination law known as Cuyahoga County Code § 1501.02(C).
Also called the “Accommodations Clause,” the local ordinance prohibits places of public accommodation from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
“It shall be an unlawful discriminatory practice … For any proprietor or any employee, agent, keeper, or manager of a place of public accommodation to deny, discriminate against, or treat differently any person except for reasons applicable alike to all persons regardless of race, color, religion, military status, national origin, disability, age, ancestry, sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity or expression the full enjoyment of the accommodations, advantages, facilities, or privileges of a place of public accommodation,” noted the law.
County law defined a place of public accommodation to include any “place for the sale of merchandise to the public, or any other place of public accommodation or amusement where the accommodation advantages, facilities, or privileges thereof are available to the public.”
In a statement released in July, Stokes said she has “dedicated my life to ministry, and today I love serving my community by officiating and writing for weddings.”
“My religious beliefs influence every aspect of my life, and I can’t simply put my religious identity into separate personal and professional boxes,” she stated.
“If you’re looking for someone to officiate your wedding, and you’re hoping to incorporate a cannabis theme or write prayers to celebrate an open marriage, I’m not your girl.”