Here we go again.
Once again, a case of religious liberty clashing with gay rights is making national news.
First there was the New Mexico wedding photographer. Then there was the Indiana pizza maker. Now there is the Maryland disc jockey.
The national debate about how to balance religious conscience protections and gay equality flared in the large, mostly liberal Washington, D.C., suburb of Montgomery County Friday, when Dani Tsakounis tried to help her brother hire Ultrasound Deejays for a party. An owner of the business told Tsakounis he would not provide the DJ because Tsakounis’s brother, a Silver Spring therapist, is married to another man and the birthday party they are hosting is for their 60-year-old roommate, who is also gay.
“I just said, ‘We won’t be able to do it, we’re a Christian organization and it would go against our faith, I’m sorry,’” Michael Lampiris, co-owner of Ultrasound Deejays, said Friday.
Tom Tsakounis, 46, was so upset when his sister told him that he posted the news on his neighborhood listserv, prompting calls of sympathy from neighbors. He also registered a complaint with the Montgomery County Human Rights Commission, which hears cases of alleged discrimination.
Maryland state law has banned discrimination based on sexual orientation in public accommodation — which includes businesses “offering goods, services, entertainment” the law says — since 2001. But the question of whether such laws infringe on the rights of religious conservatives, however, has received increased attention as more gay equality advocates have stepped up to file complaints and religious conservatives have argued that their conscience rights are being violated.
I like that lede, although I can't help but wonder: What about the Washington state florist? Or the Oregon baker? Or if you want your same-sex wedding cake war in a different state ... the Colorado baker?
But I digress.
The byline on the Post story belongs to award-winning Godbeat pro Michelle Boorstein. Her balanced, thorough report provides a solid endorsement for major news organizations such as the Post employing experienced, expert religion news writers. Suffice it to say that Boorstein does a wonderful job of reflecting the positions of both sides and providing important context.
A key section of the story:
Dani Tsakounis and Lampiris characterized their conversation the same way: Friendly at the start, with Lampiris telling her he could send a DJ and then asking for a few more details in order to find a good match of a DJ. Once she told him it was a 60th, Lampiris joked that she sounded too young to have a peer who was 60 — was this her father? That led to her describing that the man having the birthday was a long-ago partner of her brother, who was now married to another man. The three now live in the same house.
“I said: ‘Are they together in a union?’ And she said ‘Yes.’ It took me back and I said: ‘I don’t know if anyone would want to do it, I just don’t know,'” Lampiris recalled saying. Then he told Tsakounis his objection was religious. “She said ‘Forget it,’ and hung up.”
In this case, Lampiris said he had never heard of a related law, “but it’s important for us to make a stand. We don’t want to go against the law, but we also sometimes are called to do that if it goes against your faith. To me it would be like a synagogue having to cater to a neo-Nazi party or black DJ having to do a KKK dance,” he said. Gay clients don’t pose a “physical threat — it’s a conscience thing, and conscience is very important for everybody. In fact, I think it’s the most important thing.”
Jer Welter, managing attorney of FreeState Legal, which provides legal advocacy for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in Maryland, said several dozen cases like this come into county and state civil rights offices each year and are mostly resolved through mediation. Some have been litigated, he said. Most cases of discrimination never get filed as complaints, he said.
However U.S. courts are still hashing out a balance between religious conscience protections and protection from discrimination. One legal expert who specializes in religious liberty, but didn’t want to speak by name about the DJ case without knowing more details, said courts have looked at questions such as: What are a business’ general policies and culture? What kind of specific activity were they asked to engage in? For example, the attorney said, there might be a difference between simply refusing to serve a gay couple and refusing to work at an event that is centered on “celebrating homosexuality.”
Read the whole thing. The Post simply presents the facts and allows each of the relevant parties to explain their position — and perspective — in their own words. There's no editorializing, no snark, just good, old-fashioned journalism.