Bailey Brazzel has been getting her taxes done at the same firm in the small town of Russiaville, Indiana, for the past four years. But last Tuesday, when she told the owner she and her new wife were filing together for the first time, she was turned away.
In the past, the 25-year-old had filed as "single" and said that she had never had a problem with Nancy Fivecoate, who owns Carter Tax Service. Last year, Brazzel even brought her then-girlfriend, Samantha Wilson, in to meet Fivecoate. But after finding out the women had married in July and were submitting their taxes jointly, Fivecoate refused to serve them.
"We just sat there shocked for a minute and then we got up and walked out," Samantha Brazzel, Bailey's wife, told BuzzFeed News. "It was so out of the blue."
Fivecoate, 66, cited her religious beliefs in justifying her decision.
“I am a Christian and I believe marriage is between one man and one woman. I was very respectful to them. I told them where I thought she might be able to get her taxes prepared," she said in a statement.
Fivecoate added that she does not mind that her clients are gay, saying that she gives "the LGBT respect for their beliefs" and doesn't "say anything about their lifestyle." It's when they legally recognize their union, however, that she feels compelled to take a stand.
"A few years ago, I had a couple of gay clients that married. When it was time to prepare their taxes they called me and asked if I had a problem since they were married. I told them that as a Christian that I could not prepare their taxes," Fivecoate wrote. "I thanked them for calling and wished them well."
Taken aback, Samantha Brazzel said the couple decided to share their experience on Facebook because it underscores the confusing, often circumstantial reality of the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), the controversial law that bars governments from infringing upon a person's right to exercise their religious beliefs.
Many states, including Indiana, have adopted their own versions of RFRA or passed religious liberty protections that help business owners and private entities make decisions based on their religion, much to the dismay of LGBT groups, which argue that the laws foster and protect discrimination.
Indiana's original religious freedom law, which went into effect in 2015, was deemed so discriminatory and concerning that it sparked widespread, national protests and boycotts, ultimately forcing state lawmakers to amend the language.
Still, the majority of cities in Indiana, including Russiaville, where Fivecoate's tax business is located, do not prohibit businesses from not serving people because of their sexual orientation.
"Nancy didn't violate any laws at all," Samantha Brazzel told BuzzFeed News. "We literally don't have a case against her. Even though marriage equality has been the law of the land since 2015 and our marriage is just as valid as everyone else's, things like this are still happening."
The 32-year-old said that she and her wife do not believe Fivecoate "is a bad or malicious person," but that the Christian business owner's action still underscores their own vulnerability and murky status as a gay, married couple.
"We can go into a restaurant and get kicked out just because of who we are with," she said. "It’s the bigger picture here. It’s about the fact that there aren’t any laws to protect us."
Fivecoate, however, argued in her statement that, by people harassing her and "trying to destroy her business," she is also a victim of discrimination.
"Where is their respect for my beliefs?" she asked.