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CLEVELAND (ChurchMilitant.com) - A Christian wedding officiant is suing an Ohio county over a recently passed law requiring wedding officiants to offer and perform so-called same-sex weddings regardless of religious beliefs.
Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) is representing Christian wedding officiant and owner of Covenant Weddings Kristi Stokes in a lawsuit filed on Wednesday to challenge a Cuyahoga County law that imposes the local government's pro-homosexual views on Stokes' religious beliefs.
In addition to mandating the offering and performance of so-called same-sex weddings, the law forces officiants to compose homilies, vows and prayers for weddings that fundamentally contradict the religious beliefs of some in the region.
"No one should be forced to officiate ceremonies that conflict with their religious beliefs," said ADF Senior Counsel Kate Anderson. "Because of Cuyahoga County's law, Stokes faces an impossible choice — disobey the law, defy her own faith, or ditch her business."
"Many different religions and countless people of goodwill believe that weddings are sacred ceremonies between one man and one woman," Anderson continued. "No matter one's views on marriage, we all lose when bureaucrats can force citizens to participate in religious ceremonies they oppose, speak messages they disagree with and stay silent about beliefs they hold dear."
A Cuyahoga county spokeswoman said attorneys will review the lawsuit once served and "vigorously defend" the law in question. "It's an important piece of legislation written and passed to ensure equal access and opportunity for all citizens of Cuyahoga County," she added.
According to the lawsuit, the county "cannot rescind religious liberty and free speech by relabeling them discrimination. In reality, Stokes gladly works with people regardless of who they are, including LGBT individuals. She just cannot officiate or bless every marital union."
The Cuyahoga County law could use court orders to force Stokes and others to officiate weddings and assess civil penalties beginning at $1,000 for non-compliance. Attorney fees could also be imposed on believers, potentially costing them hundreds of thousands of dollars.
"Since a young age, I've dedicated my life to ministry, and today I love serving my community by officiating and writing for weddings," said Stokes. "My religious beliefs influence every aspect of my life, and I can't simply put my religious identity into separate personal and professional boxes."
"If you're looking for someone to officiate your wedding, and you're hoping to incorporate a cannabis theme or write prayers to celebrate an open marriage, I'm not your girl," she added. "Northeast Ohio is home to many diverse viewpoints, and I'm simply asking that my county also respect me, my business and my freedoms as an American citizen instead of forcing me to write or speak messages that contradict my beliefs."
After the sexual orientation and gender identity ordinance was passed in 2018, notes a piece in Front Lines Ohio, "Cuyahoga County bureaucrats are now in the business of establishing its own theocracy. Citizens with diverse religious viewpoints inside the county are now punished and face punitive damages."
"True tolerance is a two-way street," reads an ADF summary of the case. "When the government can force religious business owners to operate against their convictions, it can force others to violate their convictions as well. When the government controls speech, we do not live in a free America."