Children’s Museum, Citing ‘Religious Beliefs,’ Says Same-Sex Couples Are Welcome As Long As They Pay More

Florida resident Karen Lee-Duffell has two young kids, and a wife with whom she’s been together for 12 years. The four of them love the Jacksonville Hands-On Children’s Museum.

Well, make that loved. You see, when Lee-Duffell wanted to renew her family membership recently, museum staff unexpectedly balked when she put a woman’s name on the form in the section marked “dad.”

“They noticed the female name in the ‘dad’ space and told me that I would need to pay extra to add her as a ‘substitution’ because she is not a dad,” Lee-Duffell said. “I was confused for a second, but quickly realized what was going on. It sends a clear message that they are not interested in fairness to certain kinds of families. I don’t think that’s right, no matter what the proprietors’ personal beliefs are.”

Lee-Duffell claims that the museum’s refusal to qualify her partner for inclusion in the family rate “is no different than charging someone extra for their T-shirt because they are meat eaters and the store owner is vegetarian.”

The museum is outraged, outraged I tells ya, by the accusation that it discriminates. It totally doesn’t!

Oh, wait.

“The Hands on Children’s Museum does not discriminate against gender, race, religion or sexual orientation. We have and will remain welcoming and inclusive. Our family memberships include Mom, Dad and their children and allow unlimited visits throughout the year. For single parent families, we allow for other adults in the household to be added as members with the parents consent and payment of $10.00 administrative fee. This policy is consistent with our religious beliefs, and Florida law, while still allowing us to accommodate non-traditional child rearing.”

[Note: read the update, below, for a fuller picture.]

In other words, same-sex couples are welcome at the museum, but they should expect to pay more than straight couples. That’s just our faith, folks!

Museum officials feel stung by the criticism that has poured forth, and they say, correctly, that the aggressive reactions of some — including phone and e-mail jamming — have been both misguided and rude.

Then again, staff hardly help their cause when, in a press release, they bitterly cry foul over such Facebook statements as “I hope this place closes down & I for sure will not be going there!” and “They care more about their hurtful policies than they do the well-being of the children and families they propose to serve, and this makes me very, very sad.” There’s nothing remotely wrong, either morally or legally, with uttering sentiments like those.

The museum also feels slighted by an initiative to picket the place next week, and purports to be horrified by the fact that public financial documents of the 501(c)(3) non-profit have been shared and scrutinized by critics:

They have posted the Hands On Children’s Museum’s financial records. These records are only to be used as information for those who are donors or would be donors, in the effect of a donation or grant. Not to be posted and ridiculed over as on their Facebook page.

But in a democracy, of course transparency, debate, and protests are absolutely fine. It’s hard to escape the notion that the museum’s fingerpointing is a lame attempt to deflect blame — and a chance to fire up the old Christian-persecution narrative.

Personally, I’m much more concerned that people who believe they have something to teach kids treat the English language as worthless trash (I say that as an immigrant whose native tongue isn’t English).

Speaking of language issues, please note that in this post, as a courtesy, I have rendered the museum’s name with the grammatically required hyphen. Without the hyphen, as the museum spells it, the name actually gives me the heebie-jeebies. You’re welcome, Hands-On Children’s Museum.


***Update*** I just called the museum. Its outgoing message says there is “new membership pricing,” without going into detail. The website indicates a quiet change that is both encouraging and disappointing. Encouraging because family pricing now appears to be equal for all — gay parents or straight parents, no discernible difference. Disappointing because, in a move that calls to mind the expression “Cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face,” every two-parent family wishing to purchase an extra membership must now pay the $10 surcharge.

Still, Lee-Duffell pronounces herself more or less pleased on her Facebook page:

At this point, they have changed their pricing strategy to treat all families equally, and for that I am grateful. I have not yet seen any explanatory statement from the company beyond their original statement standing by their policy. Whether their strategy of increasing prices across the board was a wise one remains to be seen. I’m disappointed that they believe treating us equally is so expensive, as I don’t think the other organizations in town that offer inclusive family memberships have found that to be the case.

About Terry Firma

Terry Firma, though born and Journalism-school-educated in Europe, has lived in the U.S. for the past 20-odd years. Stateside, his feature articles have been published in the New York Times, Reason, Rolling Stone, Playboy, and Wired. Terry is the founder of Moral Compass, a now dormant site that poked fun at the delusional claim by people of faith that a belief in God equips them with superior moral standards. He joined Friendly Atheist in 2013.

  • Drew M.

    Apparently their religious beliefs include worshiping Mammon.

  • GreenEyedLilo

    I’m glad they’ve done something, though you know a lot of straight parents will be upset at these two for “jacking up the rates for everyone.” (Which isn’t the case, but no doubt is the perception the museum wants to give.) It’s disgusting that they would force their “religious beliefs” on children. Not only is it hypocritical–would they have done this to a kid with an atheist mom and dad?–it runs counter to their mission by singling certain kids out. If you don’t want to be called a bigot, don’t act like one.

  • Brian

    Parent to child: “Sorry, they don’t want us here. They don’t think we are a family.”

    [Child cries loudly]

    Parent to museum official: “I hope you’re happy.”

    [Child continues to cry]

  • Billy Bob

    “If you don’t want to be called a bigot, don’t act like one.”

    More people need to learn this

  • Tanner B James

    While I do not support the idea that the museum would profit from my suggestion, a better response to this, than a picket line, would be for an abundance of LGBT couples to purchase memberships and then regularly show up at the museum, especially during their most busy times of the week. I know this sounds spiteful but my intent is to promote the idea that LGBT couples are no different than other couples and by being out in public, mixing with the christians, would show that.

  • WallofSleep

    But I’m just following God’s word, and since He is perfect, He couldn’t possibly be a bigot, therefore neither could I.

    At least I think the reasoning goes something like that.

  • C Peterson

    A business should not be able to operate according to religious beliefs. That is a constitutional violation. Such a business should be required to operate as all businesses operate, or it should be executed: its permits revoked and its existence as a legal entity revoked.

  • Houndentenor

    What if a business claimed they couldn’t serve Jews because of their religious beliefs? Or African Americans? There are religious sects that are racist and anti-semitic.

    If the museum is owned by a church, they may have a case. Otherwise someone is using their own personal bigotry (religious or otherwise makes no difference) to discriminate.

  • Houndentenor

    I’ve read the entire Bible twice (some parts many more times) and I’m pretty sure there’s no passage that says that same-sex couples have to pay more to enter a museum than a heterosexual couple.

  • Houndentenor

    Sounds like every megachurch in America.

  • WallofSleep

    Oh, it’s in there. In between the parts about tipping 15% and not pirating software.

  • Mario Strada

    To me it’s clear as day that the latest move they made was to specifically increase the animosity of the public against this family in particular and LGBT families in general.

    The right policy change would have been to simply disregard the sex of the parents, as it’s not their business in the least.

    By increasing the prices for all, I think they are hoping for complaints from the heterosexual families. It also gives the usual bigots carte blanche to complain about everyone paying more to satisfy the “minority”.

    Of course, I am speculating, but I’d be surprised to be wrong in this case. Just wait for the Becks and Limbaugh to start taking this up as an example of how the minority is forcing heterosexual families to pay more.

    I think this is their passive aggressive way to stick it to them.

    By the way, How “Hands on” are they with children?

  • sswaan

    “…family pricing now appears to be equal for all — gay parents or straight parents, no discernible difference…every two-parent family wishing to purchase an extra membership must now pay the $10 surcharge.”

    But really, are they going to ask for marriage certificates of the opposite-gender couples? It doesn’t seem like an effective change at all.

  • Jasper

    When are people going to get the clue that using the Religion Card isn’t a blank check that lets you do whatever you want?

  • Hat Stealer

    A better example would be if the museum made an interracial couple pay extra because it violated their religious beliefs. Or hell, if they just made someone pay more because they were black. That’s the equivalent of what they’re doing.

  • Hat Stealer

    But but but freedom of religion!

  • anniewhoo

    The “museum” is also a non-profit organization, which means they are getting tax breaks, the owners have limited liability, and they can benefit from grants and donations.

  • academyofjediarts

    Thank you for covering this story.

    The museum’s supporters posted a statement on our Boycott page over on FB today. You can read about it over there or read one advocate’s refute of that statement here:

    This is our petition and all who sign and share are appreciated:

    This has become more than a consumer issue or an issue of human rights. This has become an issue of defending reason (and apparently, the proper use of grammar and punctuation)

    Come hang out on our Boycott page- we are fun people :)


  • Stev84

    Just like nearly every other organized religion

  • Conuly

    I wonder what their previous policy would’ve done with children being raised by grandparents, or by other family members not their parents.

  • Miss_Beara

    Yep. They never see themselves as how they really are. If someone calls them out on it, they scream religious persecution.

    Or this classic gem: “I don’t hate gay people. I have many gay friends. I hate the sin. Also, they should never ever get married because it is icky.”

  • Bill Santagata

    Because the Bible says you *must* believe in Jesus to get into heaven, Jews are going to the exact same place as the gays to receive the exact same punishment: horrendous torture for all eternity. So I don’t understand why it’s any more acceptable to be Jewish than it is gay.

  • kaydenpat

    I see what you’re saying but it’s sad that LGBT couples have to show that they are no different than other couples. Everyone should know that by now. And unfortunately, I could see bigots wrinkling up their noses at the LGBT couples or complaining that they’re overrunning the museum.

  • neatjunk

    The photos of the inside of the museum make it look like a shabby Chuck E Cheese.

  • academyofjediarts

    I have not seen that either, but maybe the museum supporter people will make it up, just like they have made up a lot of BS of epic proportions.

  • academyofjediarts

    I have heard reports there is a church involved, not sure which one.

  • academyofjediarts

    Two words = PAY TAXES

  • academyofjediarts

    A few hundred more movements like this where people of all beliefs come together to stand in the face of a giant ball of WTF. Maybe then.

  • academyofjediarts

    But but but not all religions :) The stupid. How it burns.

  • academyofjediarts

    Their latest statement refers to “non-traditional child rearing” My daughter is going to be one of the kids attempting to deliver the petition to this museum after our peaceful demonstration on the 22nd (which the museum describes as some sort of attack because I guess all those people know when they hear demonstration is some hate thing involving Westboro or women’s health center). I told her to watch her back. :)

  • academyofjediarts

    There is another museum in Jacksonville that is family friendly for real. I thought it would be a great idea for people to donate $10 to THAT museum in honor of an “unnamed” person.

    I agree though. people mixing together is a good thing.

  • academyofjediarts

    They do serve pizza. They had a business awhile back that closed called “Money Jungle” that also served pizza.

    “I’ll take a large pie with pepperoni, bigotry, and an extra dose of WTF, please”

  • academyofjediarts
  • academyofjediarts

    Bigotry, tax free. BULL****

  • Sarah-Sophia

    To tell you the truth I think that it’s one thing to give a child a discount but it is unfair to give someone a discount (lower price per person) just because they happen to have a significant other, gay or straight. They should just stick with X amount for adults and Y amount for children.

  • JMM

    I’m sorry but this place has the right to do what they want it’s their business. One person’s racism is another’s truth. They have the right to do what they think is right just like you do.

  • Michael W Busch

    This place has the right to do what they want. It’s their business.

    No, they don’t. No business is allowed to discriminate against a legally-protected class.

    It happens that Florida has not yet enacted protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation, so technically what the museum has done isn’t illegal. But it is still wrong.

    One person’s racism is another’s truth

    No. Racism is always wrong. So are homophobia, transphobia, sexism, classism, ableism, and all other forms of bigotry.

  • geoff

    I felt the exact same way until it was pointed out to me that they are beneficiaries of public funds. The KKK does not receive tax breaks so they can do as they please. This place could easily refuse public funds and keep anyone out that they choose…but they take the money, so they have to follow the rules.

  • Anna

    Our family memberships include Mom, Dad and their children and allow unlimited visits throughout the year. For single parent families, we allow for other adults in the household to be added as members with the parents consent and payment of $10.00 administrative fee. This policy is consistent with our religious beliefs, and Florida law, while still allowing us to accommodate non-traditional child rearing.”

    I don’t even get their motivation for charging more, unless it’s simply to show their disapproval of families that don’t match their ideal type. And even then it doesn’t make sense. They’re obviously not asking for marriage licenses or birth records, so an unmarried opposite-sex couple can have a family membership, even though they just live together and regardless of whether they’re both the biological parents of the children involved. So the couple “living in sin” gets the discount, yet a single mother and grandmother have to pay more, even though there’s no “sin” going on in their household.

  • Anonny

    Clearly, whether the two adults have sex or not is integral to the cost of letting them into the museum.

    I have had family memberships at over a dozen zoos, aquariums, science museums and childrens museums in four different states. None have ever asked if I’m having sex with the adults I bring in. Sometimes they want two adults named, sometimes just one (then I bring the grandparents or a friend and their kids in). I once asked about two unrelated adults sharing a named family membership and was told you needed the same address. Once they were utterly unable to put it under my name and just had to keep it under my husband’s name because penises are easier to alphabetise.

    But, being hetero I can never know what would happen if I tried to put my wife down onthe membership.

  • Spuddie

    No. One person’s racism is another person’s racism. Its just a matter of being honest about one’s POV or not. They are open to the public, take public funding, they owe a duty to the public not to discriminate for anything unrelated to business concerns.

  • rhodent

    I’m guessing that they are hoping that in a few weeks the attention will be off them and they can quietly switch back to their former, discriminatory pricing structure. Either that or they’re not actually going to charge married straight couples the extra $10. In fact, if anyone reading this is in the area and is part of a married straight couple, it might be worth trying to join in several days to see what you get charged.

  • Baby_Raptor

    Because some sects of the Christers need the Jews (More specifically Israel) for their end time beliefs. So for now, the Jews are tolerated and given lip service.

  • crden

    I think it’s very telling that in their new price structure, they’re all about discouraging having both parents involved in the child’s activities. That’s a very unusual pricing structure, particularly for a place that’s supposedly supportive of children and families.

  • Heathen Mike

    It’s sad that Florida’s regressive laws on the subject give cover to businesses like this one. However, it’s nice to see that public pressure can have a positive impact despite the draconian laws. Political leaders sure don’t seem to be leading the way on social justice. Some of them are just playing catch-up; others are digging in their heels against progress.

    I can’t stop considering the nitty gritty details of the museum’s policy, though. They technically insist on consent of both biological parents in order to add a non-biological adult or parent figure to the family plan. …and then charge a $10 “administrative” fee. How do they possibly enforce such a rule? “We need to see your written consent (notarized, of course) of that anonymous sperm donor.” “Oh, I’m sorry, the child’s parent died, and you’ve remarried? …no go, sorry; we can’t accept the new marriage.” “What? Your ex-husband hates your guts and wants to undermine you at every turn? Sorry, we need his written consent for your live-in boyfriend/fiancé to count as anything more than chopped liver.” The ridiculousness of the possible scenarios is boundless. Obviously, the museum could not have been insisting on documentation to prove every adult’s exact role in every customer-family. Their policy was just a clumsy attempt at cover for their prejudiced sensibilities. How loving and Christ-like!

    It reminds me of many schools’ practice of expelling girls who became pregnant, claiming that it was not because they were pregnant. No! It was because they had engaged in premarital sex as a teen, and that was not allowed. Most of the boys who got these girls pregnant, however, got off scott free. Nice.

  • Ibis3

    Strange, isn’t it? It’s like they’ve decided to jack up the price for everyone, but give single parents a discount.

    “Really? You want to give all those women an incentive to be sluts and get pregnant so they can get a discount at your museum?” [/channelling those misogynist Family Values types who get all bent out of shape at the thought of HPV vaccines, insurance coverage of contraception, and the like]

  • closetatheist

    But, I thought it was in the section about mandatory jean skirts, no cross-gendered hugs, and reciting prayers at graduation?

  • closetatheist

    *gasp* “How rude of you to accuse us of bigotry! We do not discriminate based on religious beliefs unless your religious beliefs are not our religious beliefs!”

    uh yeah, go figure.

  • Stev84

    Eh, no. In Florida discrimination based on sexual orientation is legal, but other kinds are not. Race and sex discrimination for example are illegal everywhere according to federal law. State law covers the same and possibly additional classes.

    There is no such thing as a “private business” (a term that gets thrown around all the time) when you open your doors to the public. Private clubs can do what they want, but I don’t think they are one even if they collect membership fees.

  • pagansister

    Seriously? Pay more because you are a same gender couple?? That’s truly gracious of you! NOT!

  • Alice

    Well, there’s always been rampant and intense anti-Semitism in the Christian community. I think it’s become more underground since the Holocaust, but it’s definitely still alive and kicking.

  • Beth

    As a child I asked my mom if jews were going to hell. She was flustered.

  • Bill Santagata

    Even if this is true…very few people actually wear anti-semitism on their sleeves. A bakery that would refuse to bake a cake for a Jewish wedding would have the entire country would be calling for their doors to be shut. When they do it for a gay wedding though, we must be conscious of their “religious liberty.”

  • Alice

    That’s what I said. :) Those Christians hide it better nowadays because, thankfully, our society has evolved to the point where it isn’t socially acceptable anymore (Hopefully society will also eventually convince most Christians to leave LGBT people alone). But that is a fairly recent development in history. Even though Christianity originally started as a Jewish sect, it quickly turned into a vehemently anti-semantic religion and has a long ugly history of this.

  • J. Leo

    Nice to know that their faith or the suspension thereof can be bought so cheaply.

  • Robin

    Perhaps this was a rear-guard action on their part to add some spite. The effect will be no make others think negatively about “the gays”.

    “Great, thanks to those gays now our price has gone up too!”

    That way the museum gets to mitigate the criticism of their unfair pricing and shift the “blame” to those darn left wing commie gays.