McLEAN, Va. (AP) - An Arlington businessman who had been ordered by a local government commission to duplicate videos of gay-rights marches that he found offensive won a reprieve after the commission rescinded its initial order.
Tim Bono, of Bono Film and Video, sued the Arlington County government last week after its Human Rights Commission found him in violation of the county's anti-discrimination laws.
The commission said he denied services to a gay-rights activist based on her sexual orientation. The activist, Lilli Vincenz, had asked Bono to duplicate some archival footage of early gay-rights marches that she had on Betamax tapes.
Bono refused. He said his refusal had nothing to do with Vincenz's sexual orientation but with the content of the videos, which he deemed antithetical to his Christian values.
In April, the Human Rights Commission sided with Vincenz, and ordered Bono to either duplicate the videos or find someone else to do it at Bono's expense.
Bono filed a lawsuit challenging not only the commission's decision but also the county's anti-discrimination law. The lawsuit contends that state law prohibits counties like Arlington from adding sexual orientation to the list of categories that receive antidiscrimination protection, like race and sex.
The day after Bono filed the lawsuit in Arlington Circuit Court, the Human Rights Commission decided on its own initiative to vacate its earlier order against Bono.
In doing so, the commission said it reaffirmed the validity of the county's anti-discrimination laws, but also emphasized that businesses are free to make content-based discrimination decisions.
Bono's lawyer, Rena Lindevaldsen, said Monday she has no plans to withdraw the lawsuit and still wants to challenge the validity of the Arlington law under Virginia's constitution.
She said Bono still has legal standing to make such a challenge because he is an Arlington taxpayer.
The Virginia Attorney General's Office has issued advisory opinions that local governments are overstepping their bounds by extending anti-discrimination protections to gays and lesbians. A lawsuit could provide a direct challenge to the ordinances passed by Arlington and a handful of other Virginia localities.
"The opinion of this office is absent enabling legislation no locality can include sexual orientation in its nondiscrimination policy," said Tucker Martin, spokesman for Attorney General Bob McDonnell, adding that the General Assembly would have to approve such inclusion.
Vincenz said Monday she actually felt a sense of relief that the commission had changed course because she was worried her complaint could serve as a vehicle to have the ban on sexual orientation discrimination overturned.
"I really hope there will be no lawsuit now," she said.
Vincenz said she was taken aback last year when Bono told her he wouldn't duplicate the videos, titled "Second Largest Minority" and "Gay and Proud." She said Bono's father had made copies of the exact same videos, which include rare footage of gay-rights marches in 1968 and 1970 in Philadelphia and New York.
The 1968 march preceded by a year the Stonewall riots, considered by many as the birth of the modern gay-rights movement.
"When Tim heard the title 'Gay and Proud' he turned 180 degrees. He had been very polite to me up until then," she said. When he refused to accept her business, "I felt discriminated against as a customer," Vincenz said. "I never felt so insulted in my whole life."
Bono did not return a call seeking comment.
It is not clear why the commission initially believed Vincenz had been discriminated against because of her sexual orientation as opposed to the content of her videos. Vincenz said she never discussed her orientation with Bono.
The commission's investigation said Bono's objection to the video's content "resulted in a denial of public accommodation ... based on sexual orientation."
Arlington County Attorney Stephen MacIsaac did not return phone calls seeking comment.
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