In Maryland, the gay-rights group Equality Maryland said the trolley company's decision appears to be an isolated case of a business owner exercising his rights.
"As long as he doesn't discriminate against other people, he's free to do what ever he wants to do, including withdrawing his business from the industry," executive director Carrie Evans said.
Discover Annapolis Tours owner Matt Grubbs declined repeated requests to discuss the move, beyond acknowledging its economic impact to his business, which also operates historic tours endorsed by the Annapolis & Anne Arundel County Conference & Visitors Bureau.
Grubbs said he expects to post a full explanation on his company's website by Jan. 1, and confirmed he sent an email to prospective client Chris Belkot last month that said "we used to do weddings until recently. But we're a Christian-owned business, and we are not able to lend support to gay marriages. And as a public accommodation, we cannot discriminate between gay or straight couples, so we had to stop doing all wedding transportation."
Grubbs' message went on to suggest Maryland residents contact their lawmakers to "request they amend the new marriage law to allow an exemption for religious conviction for the layperson in the pew. The law exempts my minister from doing same-sex weddings, and the Knights of Columbus don't have to rent out their hall for a gay wedding reception, but somehow my religious convictions don't count for anything."
Belkot, 31, forwarded Grubbs' email to Annapolis news websites and fired off a response to Grubbs that read, in part, "It is your right to run your business any way you see fit, but let's be honest here, you drive a trolley up and down a street. Not exactly God's work."
Belkot had taken his future wife from their New Jersey home to Annapolis for their first vacation together, betting the historic downtown that charmed him on family trips would enchant his girlfriend, too. Years later, the couple wanted to use Grubbs' trolleys to shuttle wedding guests, but discovered that despite a page showing smiling brides and grooms, Discover Annapolis Tours had opted out.
And while the couple still plans to hold their March 9 wedding in Annapolis, the experience tainted the romantic getaway image they had formed.
"It really kind of downed our opinion of a town that we loved," Belkot said. "This isn't a crime against humanity, but it really is bigotry."
Owners can often face business decisions that conflict with their beliefs, according to a consultant who works with Christian businesses.
"When they're confronted with something that they feel is against the Bible and against God's words, our first advice is to think through the process to determine if it really is against your core values," said Ken Gosnell, president of the C12 Group of Central Maryland, a Christian business consulting group.
While Grubbs' conflict might be uncommon, Gosnell said businesses of all varieties constantly evaluate whether their work serves a mission.
"Many businesses often quit selling a product or offering something, often because it no longer matches the core values of their company," Gosnell said. "If it doesn't match their core values, whatever it is, then they should
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