This story has been making the rounds, and I find it both disturbing and fascinating. A woman by the name of Alix Genter was shopping for a wedding dress at a bridal store in New Jersey. Ms. Genter found the right dress, but the owner of the shop refused to sell it to her after discovering that Ms. Genter is a lesbian who planned to marry her girlfriend in New York. Her bizarre reasoning for refusing to sell the dress was that the marriage was “illegal” and she would not participate in an illegal action.
Ronnie Polaneczky of Philadelphia Daily News wrote a column (linked above) apologizing to gay people everywhere on behalf of straight people. She interviewed Ms. Genter and the store’s owner Donna Saber (Ms. Saber refused to give her last name, but other news sources have printed it, proving yet again that privacy is a thing of the past in the Internet Age.)
As a rule, I try to be skeptical of discrimination claims because (a) it is up to the (allegedly) wronged party to prove, and (b) it is very easy to make a claim based on discrimination without actual discrimination ever having taken place. In this case though, it is very clear that Ms. Saber discriminated against Ms. Genter. She admitted as such to the Ms. Polaneczky (as a side note, as lovely as the sentiment may seem to be, apologizing to all gay people on behalf of all straight people is a touch condescending.) Ms. Saber’s voicemail message for Ms. Genter, the one that describes her marriage as illegal, was posted online. Ms. Saber, for her part, sees nothing wrong with what she did, and told Ms. Polaneczky that she sensed Ms. Genter’s father was disappointed that his daughter was not marrying a man. (Although she is trying to reach Ms. Genter’s parents to smooth things over. Notice which party was excluded.) She also told Ms. Genter that it was a shame that a girl from a nice Jewish family was gay. It’s incredible arrogance.
The backlash against Ms. Saber has been fairly universal. Yelp, a site which allows customers to reviews businesses, now has (at the time of this writing) over 450 reviews for this store, the vast majority of them incredibly negative and posted solely because of this incident. The reviews will be removed eventually; Yelp is a review site for customers only and has stated it will not let the reviews stand. Probably that is for the best.
The damage is done though. This story has blown up and has hit the blogs (major and minor), the local media, and the national news. This incident is probably going to put Ms. Saber out of business one way or another. In the past her store has been poorly reviewed, and customers cite her as their primary source of discontent. The reason Ms. Saber’s store still exists seems to have less to do with her business savvy and more to do with the fact that her store filled a vacuum–there are just not that many bridal shops in her area.
A more impending threat though is the lawsuit that will inevitably rise. Despite Ms. Saber’s contention that Ms. Genter’s marriage was illegal, it is actually Ms. Saber who violated the law. New Jersey has a Law Against Discrimination, which, much like the federal Civil Rights Act, prevents discrimination in (among other areas) hiring, firing, public accommodation, housing, and business transactions. Unlike the Civil Rights Act, the Law Against Discrimination prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation (most famously from the Boy Scouts, although that was overturned by the Supreme Court.) By refusing to sell a wedding dress to Ms. Genter, Ms. Saber committed an illegal act.
As noted by the Reuters article I linked to above, courts generally do not accept religious beliefs as an excuse for violating the Law Against Discrimination unless the discriminating party is a religious institution. In this case however, religion would appear to be a red herring. Ms. Saber did not actually use religion as an excuse. In the Daily News column, Ms. Saber makes it clear that her refusal to sell a dress to Ms. Genter comes directly from personal rather than religious animosity toward gays and lesbians. All this is a simple way of saying that should Ms. Genter pursue a lawsuit, she will win. Easily. (Conversely, had this happened in a state without protections based upon sexual orientation, then Ms. Genter would not have a case.)
Never let it be said that there is no such thing as bad publicity. Ms. Saber is finding out that is simply untrue.