A New York-based gay bar has been ordered to pay $6.7 million in fines after it refused to serve customers with same-sex partners.
The ruling by the New York City Board of Health is the latest example of courts across the country grappling with the social and legal ramifications of gay marriage.
The bars ruling came after a New York Times investigation found that the establishment of two lesbian bars in New York city had allowed customers with gay spouses to avoid paying the same taxes and fees as their heterosexual counterparts.
But in 2015, the city board of health ruled against the two lesbian bar owners, saying they had failed to comply with city ordinances requiring them to serve gay patrons with same sex partners.
In response, the bars owners appealed the board’s decision, saying it had gone too far.
The New York Board of Public Health, which oversees public health, sided with the owners and imposed fines on the two bars, saying that “the law requires that a business have a policy that excludes same-gender customers” and that “such exclusion is necessary for the operation of a public health program”.
The board of public health also determined that the two businesses were violating the state’s anti-discrimination law by refusing to provide customers with service that violated their personal beliefs, which could include discrimination against their sexual orientation.
But the bar owners argued that the New Jersey law only applies to establishments that serve customers who are gay or lesbian, not to bars.
The board said it had no choice but to impose the fines because the state did not provide sufficient clarity to the public about how to determine whether a business is a public accommodation.
The state has been working to clarify that standard in the wake of the US Supreme Court ruling in May that struck down a ban on same-day same-marital weddings in North Carolina, where same-year marriages are legal.