Federal court rules in favor of Michigan man who refused to host same-sex weddings

Aug. 22 (UPI) -- A federal court has ruled in favor of the owner of a Charlotte, Mich., apple orchard that was barred from the East Lansing Farmer's Market for refusing to host same-sex wedding ceremonies.

In the decision, Federal District Judge for the U.S District Court for the Western District of Michigan Paul Lewis Maloney said, "The city's decision to exclude Country Mill Farms from the 2017 East Lansing Farmer's Market constitute a burden on plaintiff's religious beliefs."

"Plaintiffs were forced to choose between following their religious beliefs and a government benefit for which they were otherwise qualified," Maloney continued.

The Alliance for Defending Freedom, a conservative activist group that backed Country Mill Farms owner Steve Tennes' lawsuit, celebrated the decision.

"After Tennes posted on Facebook that he follows the Catholic church's teachings about marriage, including when he participates in weddings at his family's farm, city officials enacted policy to prohibit Tennes and Country Mill Farms from participating in the city's farmer's market," the ADF said in a statement Tuesday.

The ADF argued that Tennes would serve everyone at the farmer's market and that his farm was located outside of the city limits of Lansing, which the organization argues means the city lacks jurisdiction.

"Steve and his family-run Country Mill Farms happily serve all customers as a valued vendor at East Lansing farmer's market, and he's grateful he can continue his longtime partnership with the city and its's residents," said Kate Anderson, the senior counsel for the Alliance for Defending Freedom.

That group, which the Southern Poverty Law Center identifies as an extremist hate group founded by members of the religious right, supports the criminalization of gay people, the state-sanctioned sterilization of trans individuals abroad and the denial of goods and services to gay people based on sexual identity.