• Source: Facebook, Liberty Farm Ridge
  • NY Court Hands Down Historic Ruling: Public Wedding Venue Can't Discriminate

    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.

    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.

    LAST YEAR: Wedding Venue Must Pay $13,000 For Refusing A Lesbian Couple's Wedding

    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.

    Hat Tip: The Advocate
    Cover Photo: Facebook, Liberty Ridge Farm

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    • commented 2016-01-17 09:05:01 -0500
      Gay couples are allowed to marry. Muslim and Atheist and Jewish couples are allowed to marry. If you are a business owner you have every right to determine which products and services you offer to paying customers, but you do not have the right to deny products and services to SOME customers just because you have theological disagreements with them. If you have a problem with modern civil rights laws, you should contact your elected representatives and get them to repeal those laws. Good luck with that.

    • commented 2016-01-15 15:35:17 -0500
      They can appeal all they want but I don’t think it will change anything except the amount of time they have to pay the couple and fines as well as any lawyer fees, if any. They don’t do weddings, but do they do receptions? If so, I am assuming they do gay receptions? If they don’t host anything gay, how can they stay in business? This is the BS the haters are saying about how we are causing people to lose their livelihood. I guess they honestly don’t want a business.

    • commented 2016-01-15 12:59:03 -0500
      Jay Jonson, I am familiar with the court system. I was simply responding to the statement you made “The ruling did not come from the New York Supreme Court (which actually does not exist)”

    • commented 2016-01-15 12:47:19 -0500
      Peter King, yes, in New York, the Supreme Court is the trial court, the lowest court, though the “Supreme Court system” may also be said to include the regional appellate courts.. That is why the original headline was so misleading. Most people would have assumed that this ruling was the final say on the matter since in most states the “Supreme Court” has the final say. In New York, that is not so. The highest court in New York is the Court of Appeals, which, if the Giffords appeal, will have the final say.

    • commented 2016-01-15 12:29:25 -0500
      Jay, while you are correct that the Court of Appeals is the highest Court, you are wrong in saying the Supreme Court does not exist. In NYS the Supreme Court is the trial Court

    • commented 2016-01-15 12:17:20 -0500
      Brint, thanks for making the correction. The previous headline, hailing this as a “historic decision” from the “New York Supreme Court,” was inaccurate. This may be an historic decision, and it is certainly an important decision, but it is not as important (or as historic) as a definitive ruling from the state’s highest court would be. If the Giffords decide to appeal and the state’s higest court, the Court of Appeals, rules in our favor, that would be historic. As revised, the story is now accurate. If we are to take NCRM seriously, accuracy is essential.

    • commented 2016-01-15 11:45:27 -0500
      Jay, I think the story as it was written accurately reflected the case’s disposition — but I’ve edited it to specifically say that the New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division is not the highest court in the state.

    • commented 2016-01-15 11:22:21 -0500
      Brint, someone needs to correct the headline and subheading. It makes a difference as to whether a state supreme court issues a ruling or a lower court does. Most people reading this post will assume that the state’s highest court has made a definitive ruling. That is not true. Surely, the purpose of this site is not to disseminate misinformation.

    • commented 2016-01-15 11:06:49 -0500
      Jay, it sounds to me like you’ve got an issue with the names of the courts, not my reporting.


    • commented 2016-01-15 10:28:42 -0500
      Very sloppy reporting. The ruling did not come from the New York Supreme Court (which actually does not exist). It came from an intermediate appeals court. New York’s highest court is called the Court of Appeals, and would be the next court to which yesterday’s decision could be appealed. Please correct your copy, which creates confusion and disseminates misinformation.

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