Farmers in upstate New York were recently fined $10,000 for not allowing a lesbian couple to get married on their property, though they let other couples marry on their farm every year.
Cynthia and Robert Gifford own Liberty Ridge Farm and typically allow dozens of weddings or birthday parties to take place on the property every year, according to religionnews.com. The Christian couple apparently didn't agree with the lesbian couple's marriage plans, so they refused to provide them with a venue.
The Giffords must now pay Jennifer McCarthy and Melisa Erwin, the same-sex couple they rejected, $1,500 each.
McCarthy and Erwin asked to rent the Giffords’ property for a wedding in 2012, but they were only offered use of the farm for their wedding reception and not the actual ceremony they planned to have.
When individuals rent out the farm for weddings, they typically use the first floor of the Giffords’ house for their ceremonies, or a nearby field.
James Trainor, the Giffords’ lawyer, said that the couple declined to allow the wedding ceremony because they believe marriage should be between a man and a woman.
“It literally hits close to home,” Trainor said.
After the rejection, McCarthy and Erwin filed a complaint with the Division of Human Rights in New York.
The couple’s lead counsel, Mariko Hirose, argued that “all New Yorkers are entitled to their own religious beliefs, but businesses cannot discriminate based on sexual orientation any more than they can based on race or national origin.”
In the case, one major point of contention was the view of the farm as a place of public accommodation.
While the Giffords’ felt that their property was a home and not subject to any anti-discrimination laws, Administrative Law Judge Migdalia Pares ultimately ruled that their home was a place of public accommodation because it is often rented out and makes money from its use.
“The fact that the Giffords also reside at Gifford Barn does not render it private,” the decision read.
Pares also said that Liberty Ridge “unlawfully discriminated against complainants solely on the basis of their sexual orientation” in the decision.
Trainor said that the Giffords may still refuse to pay the $13,000 in fines and may appeal the ruling.
“Liberty Ridge Farm … has employed gay people and has conducted events for same-sex couples,” Trainor said. “The Giffords’ objection was to hosting and participating in the wedding ceremony itself and not to providing service in general to lesbians.”
Adam Winkler, a law professor at UCLA, said he thinks the case is unusual because public accommodation laws do not generally have an effect on private homes.
“It is just another case in the many battles in the fight over public accommodation of same-sex marriages,” Winkler said. “If you want to open yourself up to the public, there’s a cost, which is that you can’t discriminate.”
McCarthy and Erwin are now married, despite the incident.
Source: religionnews.com, New York Law Journal
Photo Credit: New York Law Journal