The recent discussion about the Indiana RFRA brings to mind the “Mrs. Murphy’s Boarding House” hypothetical that was debated when the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Fair Housing Act of 1968 were enacted. Mrs. Murphy was supposed to be an old lady who took boarders in her home. The argument was that someone like that should not be required to take in boarders that she did not want in her home, even if her reason was racial bigotry. Ultimately, the Fair Housing Act did exempt this sort of person and that compromise that remains the law.
The argument is now being made that a provider of wedding services (a caterer, florist, photographer, or wedding planner) should not be required to work on a same-sex marriage if he or she objects on religious grounds. Is this Mrs. Murphy comparable to the 1960s version? I would say no. The boarding house example includes a home and a business, and thus one might conclude that there is some privacy interest at stake. The wedding scenario, by contrast, only involves a business and thus does not seem to warrant an exception from a non-discrimination provision based on sexual orientation. (If there is no such provision, then the wedding planner is free to discriminate against same-sex weddings, I suppose.)
Nevertheless, I’m left wondering about the practical effect of this modern Mrs. Murphy. Suppose a wedding provider says on its website, brochures, or in person that they think same-sex relationships are wrong but that they will comply with state law and work on same-sex weddings upon request. How many same-sex couples are going to want their photos, flowers, cake, etc to come from someone who thinks that their marriage is sinful, unconstitutional, etc? Not many, I would think. So is there really a problem here?