Some Las Vegas wedding chapels are turning away same-sex couples

Judge Nancy Allf marries Sherwood Howard, right, and Nevada state Sen. Kelvin Atkinson (D-North Las Vegas) outside the Clark County Marriage Bureau on Oct. 9.
(Ethan Miller / Getty Images)

Although same-sex marriage became legal on Oct. 9 in Nevada, some Las Vegas wedding chapels are refusing to perform the marriages.

Those places are, the American Civil Liberties Union says, breaking the law.

An ACLU official on Thursday criticized what he said are “a small number” of for-profit wedding chapel owners who are refusing to perform such ceremonies because of their religious beliefs.

“That’s not religious freedom,” James Esseks, director of the ACLU’s LGBT Project, said in a conference call with reporters. “That’s discrimination.”


On Oct. 9, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco struck down the Nevada’s ban on gay matrimony. Since then, a handful of chapel operators have publicly opposed such unions.

“I’m not going to perform it,” said Dolly de Leon, owner of Vegas Wed Chapel. “I believe that I cannot be forced to perform a wedding. I cannot ... because of my faith, because of my belief.”

De Leon, a licensed minister since 1979, said she realizes her stance puts her at odds with the law.

Nevada’s public-accommodations statute guarantees “full and equal enjoyment” of public services regardless of sexual orientation.

Tod Story, executive director of the ACLU of Nevada, said, “When a [gay] customer shows up to a place of public accommodation, a business, they are entitled to those services the same as any other customer.”

Story added that no same-sex couples have complained yet to the ACLU. Mae Worthey, public information officer for the Nevada Equal Rights Commission, said the agency also had not received any complaints.

But the operator of a downtown Las Vegas wedding chapel said his business is booming as a result of the decision by other chapels to turn away same-sex couples.

“We have a lot of couples coming in and naming all the chapels they’ve been to and been kicked out [of],” said Jim McGinnis of Chapelle de l’Amour.

“I feel what they’re doing is wrong,” he said.

The ACLU’s Story added, “I would hope that these chapel owners and anyone that would be performing these ceremonies would practice the Golden Rule: That is, just treat people the way you would like to be treated.”

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