GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — An attorney says a Grand Rapids wedding venue that won’t serve LGBTQ couples is likely breaking local law.
Broadway Avenue opened just a few weeks ago. Demonstrators gathered outside the venue on Monday to protest its policy of not hosting weddings for same-sex or transgender couples.
The policy could violate Grand Rapid’s human rights ordinance, which was expanded in 2019. The city said its Office of Equity and Engagement is investigating after receiving multiple complaints.
Kirsten Holz, an attorney with Levine and Levine in Kalamazoo, believes the wedding venue is violating local law by not serving LGBTQ couples.
“Wherever you’re paying taxes and you have held yourself out as a business open to the public, you are subject to the laws within that area,” she said. “A city ordinance is just a fancy way of saying it’s a law.”
The ordinance established that in Grand Rapids, housing, employment and public services cannot discriminate based on sex, gender, sexual orientation and age.
Holz said the Broadway Avenue wedding venue is part of the public services group.
“They are a public business. So they’re privately owned, but they hold themselves out to the public and provide public services,” she explained.
The city has 90 days after receiving a complaint to determine if the wedding venue violated the ordinance.
“They can refer it to state and federal authorities, they can investigate it themselves, and they can refer it to mediation or even have a trial,” Holz said.
If the city attorney prosecutes the wedding venue for a civil infraction it would face fines.
“Every day that there’s a violation there’s a $500 fine. Beyond that, the city ordinance is really silent on what additional penalties a violator could face,” she said.
Broadway Avenue would have the right to appeal the fine on grounds the city ordinance is unconstitutional.
“They would appeal … to the Circuit Court, which is the big courthouse in downtown Grand Rapids,” she said. “From there, they can go to the Michigan Court of Appeals, and then on to the Michigan Supreme Court.”
Holz predicts that such a lawsuit would fail. She said the human rights ordinance does provide some exceptions for religious groups.
“If they were affiliated with a specific church and operated as a branch of that church, they may have more success. But they’re not,” she said. “They’re holding themselves out as being open, in fact, to other faiths.”
The venue could also face lawsuits from other people who say they were discriminated against.
News 8 reached out to Nick and Hannah Natale, the venue owners, on Wednesday for comment but did not hear back.
On Monday, the day of the protest, they had told News 8 their policy is based off their religious beliefs. They said it does not apply to wedding guests, employees or vendors, and people do not have to be Christian or believe in God in order to be married at their venue.
— News 8’s Madalyn Buursma contributed to this report.