Anyone who has ever been to the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee knows what a beautiful part of the country it is. Even beyond all the commercialism and tourist traps, go off the main drag even for a mile or two, and it is very easy to close your eyes and step back in time to the days when the first settlers made the Smokies their home. The people of the Smoky Mountains and eastern Tennessee are the best there is. They are friendly, salt-of-the-earth folks who treat strangers like family. For most, their priorities don’t change: God, country, family, hard work, doing what is right.
The good people of the Smoky Mountains are a God-fearing, church-going people. They live their lives in accordance with the tenets of their faith and the teachings of the Bible. That will now be put to the test in light of the Supreme Court decision making same-sex marriage the law of the land.
Many people head to the Smoky Mountains to get married. It is one of the most popular destinations for weddings in the nation. The heart of the wedding industry in Tennessee is Sevier County, more specifically the Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge area. Tennessee passed a state constitutional amendment against gay marriage in 2006. It passed with a resounding 81% of the vote. Roughly one-fifth of Tennessee marriages in 2013 took place in Sevier County.
So does this put Christians, churches, and other religious organizations that make a living in the wedding industry in the Volunteer state in a dilemma? Ron Crivellone, Vice President of the Smoky Mountain Wedding Association is concerned that the people of the area will look backward if they do not embrace same-sex marriage, and is fully aware of the economic impact should perception be anything less than full acceptance.
The answer could be, more than likely. When the decision was handed down, the question was addressed by Justice Anthony Kennedy, who was quick to point out that the first amendment protecting religious freedom would exempt such people and groups from being forced to participate in anything that would violate their religious convictions. But is that enough? Would a gay couple intent on getting married in a particular church or venue sue that venue if they refused to do so?
Right now, twenty-eight states have no specific legislation for prohibiting discrimination for sexual orientation. That means that wedding vendors are permitted to refuse service to same-sex couples. But as has been the case multiple times, deeply held religious beliefs mean nothing to the Left. It is almost a trophy for them if a bakery or florist is shut down because of the weight of lawsuits and other legal battles that are inflicted on Christian businesses if the militant gay agenda is not only met, but met with enthusiasm.
Talk of stripping religious organizations of tax-exempt status is the possible first step in getting the Christians in line. This creates a double-whammy for the Left. It punishes Christians because ultimately, that is who we are talking about when the Left talks about “religious organizations”, plus it creates a bit of wealth redistribution.
Utah Senator Mike Lee (R) and Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID) will introduce The First Amendment Defense Act. It would prevent any agency from denying a federal tax exemption, grant, contract, accreditation, license, or certification to an individual or institution for acting on their religious beliefs in regard to marriage.
Will a law such as The First Amendment Defense Act protect good Christian people who just happen to make their living in the wedding industry in the Smoky Mountains? If anyone can summon up a mountain of divine intervention, it is the folks of the Smoky Mountains.