A New York state appellate court upheld a judgement against the Liberty Ridge Farm wedding venue, affirming that public discrimination against gays is illegal — and religious liberties are no excuse.
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Robert and Cynthia Giffords, owners of Liberty Ridge Farm in upstate New York, unlawfully discriminated against a same-sex couple who'd sought to host their wedding there. That's the ruling of a three-judge panel of the New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division. (It's not the highest court in the state.)
In October 2011, brides-to-be Melissa and Jennifer McCarthy were denied by the public wedding venue. In fact, the Giffords explained that they specifically do not allow same-sex couples to marry at their venue. The McCarthys moved-on and found another venue for their wedding — and smartly, they filed a complaint with the State Division of Human Rights.
Three years later, an administrative law judge found the Giffords to be in violation of New York's Human Rights Law which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. The judge ordered the Giffords to cease and desist in their unlawful discriminatory practice and to take training on non-discrimination. That order also awarded the McCarthys $3,000 in compensatory damages, and it penalized the Giffords with a $10,000 civil fine.
Guided with representation by the grossly anti-gay Alliance Defending Freedom, the Giffords appealed the case to the Appellate Division of the New York Supreme Court.
According to that court's ruling, which came down Thursday, the Giffords and counsel had attempted to argue that Liberty Ridge Farm wasn't a public business, that their rights to free speech had been trampled, and that their freedom to practice their religion was infringed upon.
The appellate court bought none of those arguments, finding no reason to modify the judgement, writing that it is mindful of New York's "long-recognized, substantial interest in eradicating discrimination."
The court emphasized that discrimination hurts all New Yorkers, and that "discriminatory denial of access to goods, services and other advantages made available to the public not only 'deprives persons of their dignity,' but also 'denies society the benefits of wide participation in political, economic, and cultural life.'"
On the significant victory, the McCarthy's representation, NYCLU staff attorney Mariko Hirose said, "New York chose to guarantee a society where lunch counters would serve Black and white customers and businesses would not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, and all of us benefit from these protections."
Similar to free speech and religious freedom considerations in Oregon's infamous Sweet Cakes by Melissa discrimination case, the New York court has outlined a distinction between free speech and unlawful discrimination in places of public accommodation.
Addressing religious liberty and free speech concerns, the ruling clarifies that the Giffords are "free to adhere to and profess their religious beliefs that same-sex couples should not marry," however they would be required to "permit same-sex couples to marry on the premises if they choose to allow opposite-sex couples to do so."
The Blaze reports that the Alliance Defending Freedom and the Giffords are discussing appeals options. In the mean time, Liberty Ridge Farm has complied with the court's orders since 2014 — their venue no longer takes bookings for any weddings.
Edit: This story was edited to mention that the New York Supreme Court isn't the highest court in the state. Thanks to commenter Jay Jonson for pointing that out. Important detail.