CLEVELAND, Ohio – A minister sued Cuyahoga County this week, alleging its anti-discrimination law violates her constitutional freedoms to avoid marrying same-sex couples.
Kristi Stokes, an evangelical Christian from Cleveland, filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Cleveland. It accused the county of forcing her to perform same-sex weddings or face prosecution.
Stokes’ business, Covenant Weddings, only offers wedding services “that celebrate marriage between one biological man and one biological woman,” the lawsuit said. The filing said Stokes has already risked being prosecuted by declining to lead a same-sex marriage.
“The county’s law has left Kristi with an impossible choice: disobey the law, defy her faith, desecrate her ministry or ditch her business. None of these options are acceptable. To Kristi. To her faith. Or to the First Amendment,” the lawsuit said.
Mary Louise Madigan, a spokeswoman for the county, said that once attorneys receive service of the lawsuit, they will review it and “vigorously defend it.”
“It’s an important piece of legislation written and passed to ensure equal access and opportunity for all citizens of Cuyahoga County,” Madigan said.
The suit said Stokes “believes that God designed marriage as a gift for people of all faiths, races and backgrounds and that God ordained marriage to be a covenant between one man and one woman.”
Attorneys for the Alliance Defending Freedom filed the lawsuit. It is a conservative Christian group based in Washington, D.C.
The Southern Poverty Law Center has described it as a hate-group because “it has supported the idea that being LGBTQ should be a crime in the United States and abroad and believes that it is OK to put LGBTQ people in prison for engaging in consensual sex.”
Cuyahoga County’s ordinance, passed in September 2018, offers protections to people on the basis of the already-protected classes of race, color, religion, military status, national origin, disability, age, ancestry, familial status or sex, and adds sexual orientation and gender identity or expression to that list.
Stokes claims that the law has hurt her work.
“She continues to chill her speech and cripple her business just to avoid violating the law,” the suit said.
Matthew Burkhart, the Columbus attorney who filed the lawsuit, could not be reached.
Last year, The Lyceum, a small Catholic school in South Euclid, sued the city in federal court over its anti-discrimination ordinance. The school stresses that marriage is between a man and a woman.
The lawsuit was dropped about a month later, as a lawyer for the school wrote that the city clarified its position as it related to portions of the ordinance and was satisfied that it would not adversely affect the school because of its teaching.