Refusing to Host a Lesbian Wedding Cost This Farm $13,000
Robert and Cynthia Gifford say that refusing to allow a lesbian couple to marry on their property was not a form of sexual orientation–based discrimination. But a New York appellate court unanimously disagrees.
This week, all five judges in a New York federal court upheld a ruling by the New York State Division of Human Rights, which found the Giffords guilty of discrimination and ordered them to pay a $10,000 fine and $3,000 in damages to the recently married couple, Melisa and Jennie McCarthy.
“This decision not only recognizes how discrimination has affected the two of us, it also helps to protect others from being targeted by the same type of discrimination,” said the McCarthys, who were represented by the New York Civil Liberties Union, in joint statement. “We are pleased that this difficult experience has been able to set further precedent that discrimination is unacceptable and grateful that going forward other couples will be less likely to have the joy of their wedding planning tarnished by discrimination.”
The McCarthys contacted the Giffords in 2012, hoping to host their wedding ceremony and reception at Liberty Ridge Farm, a working farm in upstate New York that had previously hosted opposite-sex wedding ceremonies. When the McCarthys were told Liberty Ridge did not accommodate same-sex ceremonies, they filed a complaint with the Division of Human Rights.
While same-sex couples can get married in any state in the U.S., New York is one of only 21 states that grants antidiscrimination protections to LGBT citizens, according to the Human Rights Campaign. Had the Giffords’ farm been in Pennsylvania, Michigan, or Kentucky, they would not have violated any laws by denying services to same-sex couples.
The Giffords’ legal team, the conservative Alliance Defending Freedom, argued that their decision to refuse the McCarthys was “based solely upon the Giffords’ religious beliefs regarding same-sex marriage,” not their sexual orientation, according to court documents. The justices said they’re one and the same.
“Such attempts to distinguish between a protected status and conduct closely correlated with that status have been soundly rejected,” Justice Karen Peters wrote in the ruling.
The Giffords’ defense team also argued that because the farm was part of the pair’s private property, it was not considered a public accommodation for which LGBT discrimination is illegal. But the court didn’t find weight to that argument either, as heterosexual couples are free to marry on their property.
Since the McCarthys filed charges against the Giffords, Liberty Ridge has stopped hosting wedding ceremonies but still has wedding receptions, which they say are equally open to same-sex and opposite-sex couples.