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Will The New York Farm Refusing To Host A Lesbian Wedding Face Legal Problems?

In a situation that has tensions rising on both sides of the marriage equality issue, a lesbian couple in New York State was turned away by a farm owner who refused to book their wedding because of their sexuality.

Melisa Erwin and Jennie McCarthy inquired about holding their summer 2013 nuptials at Liberty Ridge Farm in Schaghticoke, NY, but say the owners refused to host their ceremony because they’re lesbians, reports WNYT.

“When we asked why, [the owners told us], ‘That’s what my husband and I decided. We’ve been married a long time and it’s great you’re getting married and all, but you can’t do it here,'” said McCarthy.

Owner Robert Gifford defended his stance: “I think it’s our right to choose who we market to, like any business. We are a family business, and we just feel we ought to stay down the family path.”

But New York State’s human-rights laws ban discrimination based on sexual orientation in public accommodations, and Erwin and McCarthy have filed a complaint. (A similar situation in Vermont ended with the Wildflower Inn agreeing to no longer host weddings of any kind.)

We’ve shouted down the argument that marriage-equality legislation will force people to wed us against their will, but could we be headed that way?
Take your vows in the comments section.

    • MikeE

      “We’ve shouted down the argument that marriage-equality legislation will force people to wed us against their will, but could we be headed that way?”

      So if a place refused to marry a black couple and they were taken to court for it, would that be “forcing them to wed blacks against their will”? Or would that simply be applying the laws on equality and non-discrimination in business practices, AS THE STATE LAW REQUIRES?

      It’s a non-issue.

      This “farm” rents itself out for events. It rents itself out for weddings. If they get to pick and choose who they do business with, then anti-discrimination laws serve no purpose.

      Oct 22, 2012 at 6:33 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • alexoloughlin

      From my reading of the NYS marriage equality law, only religious denominations and their affiliates are allowed an opt-out. The farm is a business apparently and should be subject to the law on marriage in the state. Either way, even if the owners are found to be in violation, who would want to have their wedding there knowing how the owners of the farm regard gay people? Why help a bigoted business owner make money? Wait until the religious nutbags start screaming “abuse of religious freedom” if the farm is forced to reverse its discriminatory “policy”.

      Oct 22, 2012 at 9:39 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Aidan8

      “We’ve shouted down the argument that marriage-equality legislation will force people to wed us against their will, but could we be headed that way?”

      This is not evidence of that at all. Religious institutions (officiants) are not required to wed same-sex couples and can “opt out,” so to speak. The “farm” is apparently a place of public accommodation and is subject to anti-discrimination laws/regs in NY. Just as a hotel or restaurant would be. I support these two women and am glad they filed a complaint. That said, I also agree with alexoloughlin (above) and wouldn’t want to give the bigots my business.

      Oct 22, 2012 at 12:42 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • thomwatson

      As others have noted, the law was never meant to protect private religious beliefs, only religious organizations, and this is how it should be. If the discrimination would be illegal without marriage equality — and under NY law it would have been illegal for this farm to refuse to rent their space to a lesbian couple for a party given that they rent their space to other members of the public — then it is still discrimination after marriage equality. Gaining marriage equality shouldn’t carve out exceptions from pre-existing anti-discrimination law.

      Oct 22, 2012 at 1:57 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • TheMarc

      As Alex noted, this IS primarily a legal issue relative to non-discrimination laws, but who wants to force them to accept gay dollars when they won’t accept gay people? I understand the importance of insuring that everyone abides by these laws; but when we encounter those who we have to “force” to abide by these laws; I say report them, then go elsewhere. So you don’t want me to get married on your farm because I’m LGBT? Fine, have fun dealing with the official complaint I’m going to file; but otherwise, thanks for the heads up. I’ll spend my money elsewhere.

      Oct 22, 2012 at 4:00 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Freddie27

      The farm is not “wedding” them, it is hosting their wedding. Secondly, the farm is not a religious institution, but a secular business, that needs to comply with the state’s public accommodations anti-discrimination statute. One’s own personal morality cannot intrude in how one serves others in a business.

      Oct 22, 2012 at 6:02 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Eric Auerbach
      Eric Auerbach

      Didn’t know Honey Boo Boo’s mom was a lesbian.

      Oct 22, 2012 at 6:54 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Avenger

      Now people are trying to force private business to accommodate gay weddings against their will. It’s only a matter of time before someone attempts to force a church to do the same thing.

      Oct 22, 2012 at 7:57 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Aidan8

      @Avenger: Gee, Avenger, what a great point…. hmmm, if only we had something called a Constitution to prevent something like that. Gosh, that would be swell wouldn’t it?

      Oct 22, 2012 at 8:11 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • thomwatson

      @Avenger: “only a matter of time”: Marriage equality has been legal in Massachusetts since 2004 and in six other states since. Number of legal cases in this eight-year-period to force a church to accommodate a same-sex wedding: Zero. If such a case were “only a matter of time,” and not just clearly unconstitutional, then you’d think also we’d have seen a plethora of cases in over 200 years against the U.S. Catholic church for refusing to marry the previously divorced, or since 1964 against the occasional evangelical church that still refuses to marry interracial or non-white couples, or against Orthodox temples that refuse to marry interfaith couples. After all, we have laws that don’t allow businesses to discriminate against customers on the basis of their marital status, race or religion, but we still haven’t forced these churches to do so in all this time.

      (And Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Boardwalk Pavilion doesn’t count. They were sued not to force them to accommodate a same-sex wedding in a religious building, but in a building they merely owned that they had put into general use as a public accommodation and as a means to make money, and for which they had a type of tax-exemption that required non-discrimination. Once they converted the building to their own religious use and acquired the correct religious tax exemption, they no longer were required by law to make the building available to same-sex couples.)

      Oct 22, 2012 at 9:37 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·

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