The owners of a Vermont Bed and Breakfast have agreed to pay $10,000 in fines and another $20,000 in settlement funds surrounding same-sex civil union ceremonies held on their property.
Jim and Mary O’Reilly own the Wildflower Inn in Lydonville, Vermont, a facility that for many years also hosted weddings.
In 2000, then Governor Howard Dean signed a bill into law that would grant homosexuals “the same benefits and protections afforded by Vermont law to married opposite-sex couples.” Wildflower Inn, however, had no requests for same-sex ceremonies until five years later when a lesbian couple asked the facility to host their service.
The O’Reilly’s told the lesbians that they would comply with the law by allowing the use of their facilities, but made clear that they objected to homosexual “marriage” because it was a violation of their religious beliefs.
The women, being offended at their response, then filed a complaint with the Vermont Human Rights Commission, who stated that the O’Reilly’s had done nothing wrong by simply expressing their disagreement.
The O’ Reilly’s explained that they continued to receive requests for homosexual ceremonies in the years that followed and acted in the same way. To handle the matters, the inn hired an event coordinator to take care of any incoming requests — for both heterosexual and homosexual couples.
In 2010, a lesbian couple contacted the event coordinator to schedule a ceremony, but was told that Wildflower Inn does not accommodate homosexuals. She then offered to handle the ceremony herself privately.
The lesbians, taken aback, then contacted the Human Rights Commission to lodge a complaint. Three months later, the ACLU also chimed in, questioning the event coordinator about the matter.
At that time, the woman resigned from her position, stating that she was wrong to have responded in the way that she did. Wildflower Inn then also stopped hosting weddings of any kind.
However, last year, the Vermont Human Rights Commission and the two lesbians then filed a lawsuit against the O’Reilly’s, citing a violation of the state’s Fair Housing and Public Accommodations Act.
“We did not bring this lawsuit in order to punish the Wildflower Inn or to collect money. We brought this lawsuit because we wanted people to know that what the Wildflower Inn did was illegal,” complainant Kate Linsley stated. “We didn’t want to stay quiet and allow businesses to continue to think they can discriminate.”
After much wrangling between both sides, this month the O’Reilly’s agreed to pay $10,000 in fines for alleged violations of the law, although the Human Rights Commission and the lesbian couple wrote in the agreement that Wildflower Inn had acted in good faith and were not behaving out of malice. The O’Reilly’s also paid a lump sum of $20,000 to the lesbian couple, which will be used in a charitable trust fund.
“The Wildflower Inn has always served–and will continue to serve–everyone in our community. But no one can force us to abandon our deeply held beliefs about marriage,” stated owner Jim O’Reilly, a Roman Catholic. “Our beliefs haven’t changed, but we do have lives to live, a family to love, a business to grow, and a community to serve. Small businesses like ours cannot match the limitless resources of the government and the ACLU. Ongoing litigation like this can cripple any small business and the livelihood of its owners, so we’re relieved to put this ordeal behind us.”
However, attorneys with Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), the non-profit organization representing the O’Reilly’s, are disturbed that the legal ordeal took place to begin with.
“Every American should be free to live and do business consistent with their deeply held beliefs,” said ADF Senior Counsel Byron Babione. “It is unfortunate when a state agency teams up with the ACLU to harass and punish a private family business over its owners’ constitutionally protected thoughts and beliefs. Legal attacks like this one are not pursuits for justice, but attempts to coerce and police private expression.”
“Despite the business’s acknowledged good faith, its assurance that it will follow the law, and the fact that it stopped hosting wedding events three months before the suit began, plaintiffs and the commission demand[ed] that Wildflower pay $10,000 to the commission and $20,000 into a charitable trust set up by plaintiffs,” ADF continued. “It is clear that Wildflower cannot match the limitless resources that the state and ACLU are willing to devote to this attack. The financial risks of continuing the litigation threaten to cripple the business and the family’s livelihood.”
No further legal action is expected to take place against the O’Reilly’s at this time.
As previously reported, in June of this year, an appeals court in the state of New Mexico fined a Christian photographer nearly $7,000 for refusing to shoot a same-sex ceremony. The state Human Rights Commission had ruled against the photographer in 2008, declaring that she was guilty of violating the state’s “sexual orientation” discrimination law.
“The owners of Elane Photography must accept the reasonable regulations and restrictions imposed upon the conduct of their commercial enterprise despite their personal religious beliefs that may conflict with these government interests,” Judge Tim Garcia wrote on behalf of the three-judge panel. “The Klu-Klux-Klan is not a protected class. Sexual orientation, however, is protected.”
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