- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The owners of a New York farm fined $13,000 for declining to host a same-sex wedding on their property have chosen not to appeal a court ruling against them, bringing an end to the high-profile legal battle after more than three years.

An attorney for Robert and Cynthia Giffords, who own the 100-acre Liberty Ridge Farm in Rensselaer County, said Tuesday that the couple will not challenge the New York Supreme Court Appellate Division’s Jan. 14 ruling, which upheld a decision by the state Division of Human Rights.

The division fined the Giffords $10,000 for violating the state Human Rights Law and ordered them to pay $1,500 each to Melisa and Jennifer McCarthy for “the emotional injuries they suffered as a result of the discrimination.”

Alliance Defending Freedom attorney Caleb Dalton said that “[a]fter much consideration, the Giffords have decided not to appeal the ruling and are evaluating how to best run Liberty Ridge Farm under a legal regime that disregards their convictions.”

The Giffords stopped hosting wedding ceremonies at their farm while litigating the case, which stemmed from their September 2012 refusal to rent the venue to the couple for religious reasons.

“Americans should be free to live and work peacefully according to their beliefs, especially in our own backyards,” Mr. Dalton said in a statement. “The government went after this couple’s constitutionally protected freedom and their ability to make a living simply for adhering to their faith on their own property. This kind of governmental coercion should disturb every freedom-loving American no matter where you stand on marriage.”

The Giffords made their decision after a string of court defeats suffered by Christian small-business owners sued for declining to offer products and services for same-sex marriage ceremonies.

Attorneys for the Giffords argued that forcing them to host a same-sex wedding amounted to compelled speech and a violation of their First Amendment rights.

The Giffords argued that they would host wedding receptions, parties or other events for same-sex couples, but the court said that their “purported willingness to offer some services to the McCarthys does not cure their refusal to provide a service that was offered to the general public.”

“Indeed, 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,” Presiding Justice Karen K. Peters said in the 14-page opinion.

The family rented out the first floor of their home on the property and surrounding backyard for marriage ceremonies, at which Mrs. Gifford served as wedding coordinator.

The couple also have been ordered “to implement re-education training classes designed to contradict the couple’s religious beliefs about marriage,” according to the Alliance Defending Freedom.

• Valerie Richardson can be reached at vrichardson@washingtontimes.com.

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