The 'Wedding Wars' Come to Virginia

You’ve no doubt heard about the trouble with cake baker Jack Phillips in Colorado, florist Barronelle Stutzman in Washington, and other creative professionals who refused to lend their artistic talents to same-sex weddings in recent years. Now that trouble has come to Virginia.

Brett and Alex Sandridge, owners of the wedding photography and videography business Gardenia Weddings, have become the latest victims of intolerance. The young married couple faced immediate backlash after politely telling a same-sex couple that they “would not be the best match to film [the] wedding.” Brett and Alex made this decision because of how important it is for them to remain true to their beliefs. You can read about it here:

WDBJ 7Same-sex couple claims Charlottesville-based photographer discriminated against them
CBS 19 NewsCharlottesville-based wedding photographers refuse to serve same-sex couple

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Brett and Alex probably had no idea that their small act of declining their artistic services in accordance with their conscience would ignite such a firestorm. Within 24 hours they had experienced a huge amount of backlash and a smear campaign so big that Facebook deactivated their page. Outraged crusaders from everywhere flooded the page with so many negative reviews that it may even put them out of business for good.

Sadly, this is what has come to be expected for anyone who doesn’t fully embrace – and even lend their artistic talents in celebration of – the judicially-created concept of same-sex marriage.

What’s unique about this situation is that it appears to be the first major flashpoint of the “wedding wars” within Virginia. Our state has enjoyed relative immunity from the merciless targeting of conscientious business owners in the wedding industry in large measure because Virginia has wisely declined to add the classifications of “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” (“SOGI”) to our nondiscrimination laws. We know that such a law would be used to punish religious business owners, and we continue to point out this connection every chance we get. (Read my recent Op-Ed in The Roanoke Times about it.)  

It is worth noting that Brett and Alex Sandridge are experiencing the market equivalent of a tar-and-feathering for their decision without any non-discrimination law on the books to punish them for their convictions. The free market – all on its own – acted with incredible swiftness to address the “harm” that this same-sex couple felt in being turned down by Gardenia Weddings. (The highly connected and instantaneous world of social media brought about a kind of swift response that a court could never dream of offering.) Now the Sandridges are on the verge of losing everything within just days of their decision because it was not in lock-step with the demands of the uncompromising Sexual Revolution. Now just imagine how terrible it would be for them if the same-sex couple had access to a “nondiscrimination” law with which they could use as a weapon against these business owners and tie them up in expensive litigation for years.

This situation certainly puts to rest the oft-repeated argument that Virginia needs SOGI laws because LGBT people are unprotected in society. Far from being unprotected, those identifying as LGBT have an army of motivated supporters ready to spring into action at a moment’s notice– and in this case, even a long list of other wedding photographers all too eager to bless the couple with a free wedding photo/video package. It is clear that the only people in this scenario who may need more protection are the faith-based owners of Gardenia Weddings.