A lesbian couple is suing a Vermont resort, accusing them of violating the state’s anti-discrimination law for refusing to allow them to have their gay marriage reception on site.
According to the lawsuit, which was filed by the ACLU on behalf of Kate Barker and Ming Linsley, the Wildflower Inn in Lyndonville, VT has a “no gay reception” policy.
The lawsuit also alleges that at least two other same-sex couples were refused service by the owner because of their sexual orientation.
While many anti-gay activists are sure to use this as a reason why gay rights should not be legally codified – “business owners should not be forced to serve people they don’t want to” – this is a prime example of how important it is to have a federal anti-discrimination law for sexual orientation; in 29 states, this sort of discrimination is legal.
And yet Vermont has been a pioneer in gay rights, recently passing gay marriage in 2009 and marketing heavily to the gay community. It is known as a safe and accepting destination for all.
“When the Wildflower Inn told us last fall that they don’t host gay receptions, we were obviously saddened and shocked,” said plaintiff Baker. “It was frustrating to be treated like lesser than the rest of the society, and we were also surprised that it happened in Vermont.”
The inn’s owners, Jim and Mary O’Reilly, have responded to the lawsuit saying that they are devout Catholics who do not believe in gay marriage. They are strict believers in “traditional marriage,” saying:
We have never refused rooms or dining or employment to gays or lesbians. Many of our guests have been same-sex couples. We welcome and treat all people with respect and dignity. We do not however, feel that we can offer our personal services wholeheartedly to celebrate the marriage between same-sex couples because it goes against everything that we as Catholics believe in.
So apparently they will take money from LGBT guests, but will not allow them to celebrate their own most sacred union.
The Wildflower Inn, after being one of 10 Vermont properties to respond to a request for a reception quote and upon discovering that this was a gay wedding, responded with an email: “I have bad news.”
“After our conversation, I checked with my Innkeepers and unfortunately due to their personal feelings, they do not host gay receptions at our facility. I am so sorry and want to stress it does not reflect my personal or professional views,” the email from the inn’s event coordinator said.
Vermont’s Fair Housing and Public Accommodations Act bars public accommodations from denying services to people based on sexual orientation.
The lawyer for the ACLU, Joshua Block, says that this is “not a one-time misunderstanding. This is a discrimination case. It would be no different if you owned a store and said we don’t want to sell clothes to you or give you food or any other public accommodation. The fact that it’s occurring in a new context shouldn’t affect the way we think about it.”
Props to these ladies for stepping up for their rights. And here’s to another example of how non-discrimination laws that include sexual orientation protect the LGBT community.