The owners of a New York farm have been fined $13,000 by the state for refusing to host a gay wedding.
The state’s division of human rights levied the fine against Liberty Ridge Farm after a lesbian couple was told their same-sex wedding could not be held on the family farm. Approximately one dozen weddings and birthday parties are held there annually.
Cynthia and Robert Gifford routinely host public events at Liberty Ridge Farm, and according to court documents, said they felt helping with a gay wedding would violate their religious beliefs. They did offer to allow the women to use the farm for the reception, according to Religion News Service.
The New York farmers live on the second and third floor of the barn and rent out the lower half for weddings. The Giffords also allow patrons to use part of the second floor as a bridal suite. Unlike during annual fall festivals, pig races and berry picking events, the Giffords are intricately involved with all aspects of weddings held on the property. “It literally hits close to home,” the Giffords’ attorney, James Trainor, told the media.
“We’re disappointed that neither the judge nor the commissioner even mentioned the Gifford’s … First Amendment rights, including the right not to be compelled to participate in a religious ceremony which violates their own religious beliefs,” Trainor told CapitalNewYork.com.
The brides in the same-sex wedding, Jennie McCarthy and Melisa Erwin, filed a discrimination complaint against the Giffords after they were told holding the ceremony could not be held at the farm.
“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,’” McCarthy said.
The New York State Division of Human Rights ruled that since Liberty Ridge Farm is open to the public for specific events, it must be classified as a “public accommodation.” The farm then falls under a sexual orientation non-discrimination state ordinance. “The fact that the Giffords also reside at Gifford Barn does not render it private,” Judge Migdalia Pares ruled.
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The Giffords were ordered to pay a $1,500 mental anguish fine to each of the brides and $10,000 in civil damages to the state. If the family farmers cannot come up with the cash in 60 days, a 9 percent interest rate will apply. The couple must also embark on anti-discrimination “re-education classes” for their staff.
Supporters of the Giffords say the government has no right to order the re-education of their religious beliefs.
During weddings, the couple uses their farm trolley to transport guests. They decorate the barn, set up floral arrangements, handle catering arrangements, and take care of other displays on the land.
“Liberty Ridge Farm has employed gay people and has conducted events for same-sex couples,” Trainor said. “The Giffords’ objection was to hosting and participating in the wedding ceremony itself and not to providing service in general to lesbians.”
The lesbian couple ultimately conducted a marriage ceremony and reception at a different location.
The Liberty Ridge Farm case follows a similar incident in New Mexico last year. There, the state Supreme Court ruled against a Christian photographer who wanted to opt out of shooting photos at same-sex weddings.
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