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Christian tax preparer turns away lesbian couple on religious grounds

Bailey and Samantha Brazzel, a married couple in Indiana, were turned away by an accountant who refused to do their taxes on religious grounds. (Bailey and Samantha Brazzel/Courtesy of Bailey and Samantha Brazzel)

For four years, Bailey Brazzel says, she had employed the same tax preparer, Nancy Fivecoate of Carter Tax Service in Russiaville, Ind. Fivecoate prepared the taxes without issue each time — until this year, when Brazzel brought her new wife, Samantha.

Fivecoate declined to serve the couple, citing her religious beliefs.

This was the first year the Brazzels, who wed in July, were filing jointly as a married couple. According to Samantha, Fivecoate explained that she believed marriage was between a man and a woman and that she would therefore not be able to prepare their taxes.

The incident, on Feb. 12, left the Brazzels feeling “shocked, upset, and kind of hurt,” Samantha told The Washington Post. “Our marriage is just as legal and valid as anybody else’s.” She and her wife left the business and posted their story in a local Facebook group to warn other same-sex couples. Samantha said the post was removed by the group’s moderators but was eventually picked up by local media.

In a statement to NBC affiliate WTHR, Fivecoate presented a similar version of events and said that she “declined to prepare the taxes because of my religious beliefs.”

"I am a Christian and I believe marriage is between one man and one woman,” she said in the statement. “I was very respectful to them. I told them where I thought she might be able to get her taxes prepared.”

She added: “The LGBT want respect for their beliefs, which I give them. I did not say anything about their lifestyle. That is their choice. It is not my choice. Where is their respect for my beliefs?”

The Post was unable to reach Fivecoate for comment, and the number for Carter Tax Service appeared to have been disconnected.

Fivecoate was legally within her right to deny service to the couple, said Steve Sanders, a law professor at Indiana University. In Indiana, he said, “sexual orientation is one of those things that is protected in some places and in other places it is not.”

Indiana has no statewide law protecting gay people from discrimination. It is left to individual cities and towns to decide whether to pass their own ordinances. Russiaville, where Fivecoate operates, is not covered by one, according to the Kokomo Tribune and the Indianapolis Star.

This is not the first time questions have been raised over the intersection of gay rights and religious liberties in Indiana. In 2015, then-Gov. Mike Pence signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Opponents of the law claimed it was an attempt to allow discrimination against the LGBT community, and it was later amended to include language stating it could not be used for that purpose by businesses and service providers.

Same-sex marriage is legal in Indiana, as it is nationwide. But gay couples aren’t protected from other kinds of discrimination, Sanders said.

In some parts of the state, “You can get married one day and fired the next,” he said, adding that the Brazzels didn’t appear to have much recourse other than “good old-fashioned shaming."

“They can publicize the fact they were discriminated against,” Sanders said. “In a free market, we believe we should have information about businesses and products. Maybe some people will want to go to [Fivecoate]. … Some will want to stay away."

Bailey, who was able to get the couple’s taxes done elsewhere, said she was doing just that.

“We don’t wish any harm to her or her business, nor do we think she’s terrible,” she told The Post. “We just want change because we aren’t the only ones this happens to. It happens all the time, and we’re speaking out for the bigger picture.”

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