In July, Kristi Stokes sued Cuyahoga County alleging that her constitutional freedoms were being violated by the county’s law barring anti-discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community. Although no LGBTQ+ couple had approached the evangelical Christian minister from Cleveland to perform their ceremony, Stokes filed a proactive suit to protect her officiating services offered by Covenant Weddings, LLC.
In an op-ed for Cleveland.com, Stokes asserted her belief that “marriage is a sacred union between one man and one woman” but that she doesn’t “want to offend anyone.”
Stokes retained the services of Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), an Arizona-based “legal advocacy and training group” founded by 30 leaders of the Christian Right and a Southern Poverty Law Center designated hate group.
Cuyahoga County responded to Stokes’ lawsuit by highlighting that Covenant Weddings, LLC. is not a public accommodation and that, even if it were, the anti-discrimination ordinance specifically creates exemptions for religious organizations.
Last week, the United States District Court (Northern District of Ohio Eastern Division) ruled exactly that:
- Neither Kristi Stokes nor Covenant Weddings LLC currently qualify as a “place of public accommodation,”…because they do not have a physical storefront from which they provide goods or services in Cuyahoga County, Ohio.
- 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.
- 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.
Despite the verdict agreeing with the argument put forth by Cuyahoga County that Stokes’ freedoms were not being impinged, ADF heralded the verdict as a “big win” and “an important victory.”
“You can rest assured that ADF will continue its work to ensure that the government doesn’t have the power to tell people of faith what messages and events they must promote… under any circumstance,” ADF said in a press release.