A Michigan farmer, barred from selling at an open-air market in a nearby city after refusing to let a gay couple get married on his property, is suing the city.
Steve Tennes, who owns Country Mill farms, filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday alleging that East Lansing is excluding him from its farmers market because of his Christian belief that marriage can only be between a man and a woman.
Tennes, who is represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian nonprofit that litigates for religious freedom, says that initially the city unsuccessfully attempted to exclude him from last year’s farmers market on grounds that his beliefs on marriage violated a city human rights ordinance. He told Fox News that in a letter last year telling him not to participate in the farmers market, the city specifically mentioned a comment Tennes made on his farm's Facebook page expressing his views on same-sex marriage.
But that effort was unsuccessful and Tennes participated in the market last year. This year, however, the city broadened its non-discrimination ordinance that requires anyone seeking to do business in East Lansing to not discriminate against same-sex couples. It then advised Tennes that he was not welcome to sell in East Lansing.
“All Steve wants to do is sell his food to anyone who wants to buy it, but the city isn’t letting him,” ADF attorney Kate Anderson said. “People of faith, like the Tennes family, should be free to live and work according to their deeply held beliefs without fear of losing their livelihood. If the government can shut down a family farmer just because of the religious views he expresses on Facebook — by denying him a license to do business and serve fresh produce to all people — then no American is free.”
East Lansing Mayor Mark Meadows was quoted in local publications as saying Tennes’ refusal to allow a same-sex couple to hold its wedding at his 120-acre farm -- which is 22 miles outside the city limits -- violated the city’s policy about vendors and discrimination. The mayor said barring Tennes from the market was not because of views expressed on Facebook, but because of his orchard’s exclusion of same-sex couples seeking to marry there.
"This is about them operating a business that discriminates against LGBT individuals and that’s a whole different issue," Meadows said.
In his lawsuit, Tennes, a Roman Catholic, says that his Facebook comment, which was in response to a customer’s question about his views of same-sex marriage, was indeed a factor in the city’s banning of him from the farmers market. He cites the fact that the city’s initial notice to him that he was barred from the market came shortly after his Facebook post and, further, that the city’s notice made specific reference to it.
The lawsuit notes, however, that Tennes’ Facebook post had nothing to do with East Lansing or the farmers market.
The question about his position on same-sex marriage, he said, followed postings on The Country Mill’s Facebook page by Caitlin Ortis urging people to boycott Tennes’ orchard because of his refusal to allow her to marry her partner, Liane, at his farm.
"As fall approaches for my Michigan friends and family, when choosing a cider mill to go to, please remember that THE COUNTRY MILL in Charlotte MI refused to let Liane and I have our wedding there because of how we identify," Ortis wrote. "Please support a local cider mill that does NOT discriminate against LGBTQIA+ folks or any folks for that matter. Please feel free to share this post."
People of faith, like the Tennes family, should be free to live and work according to their deeply held beliefs without fear of losing their livelihood.
- Kate Anderson, attorney
Tennes told Fox News that while he has his religious beliefs about marriage, some of his employees are LGBT people and that his customers include people of all faiths, races and ethnicity.
“My wife Bridget and I feel tolerance is a two-way street,” he said.