Owners of an Albany, N.Y., wedding venue who refused to host a lesbian wedding two years ago were fined $13,000 for violating the state's anti-discrimination law, and now had their second appeal rejected by a state court on Thursday. The owners' law team indicate it's a shame "farmers can't obey their faith in their own backyard."
Robert and Cynthia Gifford, owners of Liberty Ridge Farm, cited their conservative Christian beliefs in refusing to host the 2013 wedding of the former Melisa Erwin and Jennie McCarthy. Erwin and McCarthy filed a discrimination complaint with the New York Division of Human Rights after they said they were turned away from the potential wedding site because they are gay.
The Gifford's "venue" actually is a barn that they built in which they live on their 100-acre farm, and have occasionally hosted weddings on the first floor and the surrounding backyard area.
According to the Giffords, on Sept. 25, 2012, Melisa Erwin McCarthy called Cynthia Gifford, inquiring about the use of the farm for her upcoming same-sex ceremony. Because of her Christian faith's teachings on marriage, Cynthia said she politely told McCarthy that she and her husband don't host and coordinate same-sex ceremonies, but left open an invitation to visit the farm to consider it as a potential reception site. Instead, McCarthy and her partner filed a complaint with the Division of Human Rights.
The Giffords appealed a ruling from the state's Division of Human Rights, asserting their rights to free speech and religious exercise. But they lost in court on Jan. 14, 2015, reports Associated Press, in a 5-0 ruling of the Appellate Division of state Supreme Court, due to rejecting the argument that the Giffords' rights were being violated.
"The Giffords are free to adhere to and profess their religious beliefs that same-sex couples should not marry, but they must permit same-sex couples to marry on the premises if they choose to allow opposite-sex couples to do so," Judge Karen Peters' decision said.
After the agency ruled the Giffords were guilty of "sexual orientation discrimination," it fined them $10,000 plus $3,000 in damages and ordered them to implement re-education training classes that the couple said "contradicted their religious beliefs about marriage."
Gay marriage became legal in New York on July 24, 2011. It became legal nationwide on June 26, 2015, following a U.S. Supreme Court ruling.
The Giffords were represented by Caleb Dalton, an attorney for the Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian organization.
"All Americans should be free to live and work according to their beliefs, especially in our own backyards," said Dalton. "The government went after both this couple's freedom and their ability to make a living simply for adhering to their faith on their own property. The court should have rejected this unwarranted and unconstitutional government intrusion, so we will consult with our client regarding appeal."
He said an appeal would be considered.
The New York Civil Liberties Union, which represented the McCarthys, said the ruling affirms that all state residents deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. The McCarthys married at another Upstate farm.