A New York appellate court upheld Thursday a $13,000 judgment against the owners of Liberty Ridge Farm for refusing to host a same-sex marriage on their property.
Cynthia and Robert Gifford, who own the 100-acre farm in Rensselaer County, violated the state’s Human Rights Law when they declined for religious reasons a September 2012 request by Melisa McCarthy and Jennifer McCarthy to rent the venue for their wedding ceremony, the court ruled.
After being hit with a complaint, the Giffords were fined $10,000 by the state Division of Human Rights and also ordered to pay the McCarthys $1,500 each in damages for “the emotional injuries they suffered as a result of the discrimination.”
In affirming the earlier decision by the state Department of Human Rights, the New York Supreme Court Appellate Division said that the agency’s determination “does not require them to participate in the marriage of a same-sex couple.”
“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.
Caleb Dalton, legal counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom representing the Giffords, said the court “should have rejected this unwarranted and unconstitutional government intrusion,” and that the couple is considering an appeal.
New York’s highest court is the New York State Court of Appeals.
“All Americans should be free to live and work according to their beliefs, especially in our own backyards,” Mr. Dalton said in a statement. “The government went after both this couple’s freedom and their ability to make a living simply for adhering to their faith on their own property.”
Attorneys for the Giffords had argued that forcing them to host a same-sex wedding amounted to compelled speech and a violation of their First Amendment rights.
“We had hoped that the court would recognize that the government has clearly gone too far,” co-counsel James Trainor said in a statement. “The Constitution prohibits the government from forcing anyone to help communicate messages that conflict with their core beliefs about marriage. The Giffords welcome all people to the farm, but not all messages or events.”
The Giffords also said they would host wedding receptions, parties or other events on behalf of same-sex couples, but the court’s opinion 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.”
The Giffords have since stopped hosting wedding ceremonies at their property. The family lives in a barn and had rented out the first floor and surrounding backyard for marriage ceremonies, at which Ms. Gifford served as wedding coordinator.
The couple was also ordered “to implement re-education training classes designed to contradict the couple’s religious beliefs about marriage,” according to the ADF.
The case comes as the latest in a string of defeats for Christian business owners who have objected to participating in gay marriages by providing services such as flowers, cakes and photography.
“We’re glad the court upheld longstanding laws against discrimination, and we’re proud of the McCarthys for standing up for equal treatment of all New Yorkers,” said Mariko Hirose, New York Civil Liberties Union attorney and lead counsel for the McCarthys, in a statement.