ALBANY, N.Y. — A New York appeals court has unanimously upheld a $13,000 fine against a couple who declined to host a same-sex “wedding” at their farm because of their religious convictions not to facilitate the sins of others.
As previously reported, Robert and Cynthia Gifford, who are Roman Catholics, own Liberty Ridge Farms in Schaghticoke, a 50-acre facility that hosts a number of family-friendly attractions. In 2012, Jennie McCarthy and Melisa Erwin of Albany contacted the facility to schedule their “wedding” ceremony, as the venue regularly hosts weddings and other outings, but when the Giffords realized that the two were lesbians, they informed the women that they could not be of assistance.
“That’s when [Cynthia] said, ‘Now we have a problem,’” Erwin explained. “This is a decision that my husband and I have made. …. [Y]ou can’t do it here.”
McCarthy and Erwin then filed a complaint with the New York Division of Human Rights, alleging discrimination. Others began to write angry messages on the farm’s Facebook page, such as “Gay dollars are just as green as straight dollars.”
In August 2014, Administrative Law Judge Migdalia Peres ruled in favor of the two women, despite the Gifford’s notation that hosting the ceremony would violate their religious beliefs.
“The policy to not allow same-sex marriage ceremonies on Liberty Ridge Farm is a denial of access to a place of public accommodation,” she wrote in her decision.
Peres fined Liberty Ridge Farms $13,000, citing “the goal of deterrence” for other businesses who might adhere to their convictions and decline to personally accommodate same-sex celebrations. $1,500 of that amount was be paid to each the lesbians who were turned down by the facility, which also serves as the Gifford’s home.
Liberty Ridge Farms was also ordered to provide proof that they have trained their employees not to refuse requests from homosexuals. A poster noting that the business is subject to human rights law was additionally to be displayed prominently at the business.
The Giffords soon decided to close the wedding venue altogether, while keeping other parts of their farm operational, in order to avoid violating their religious beliefs. The couple also filed an appeal against the ruling with the The New York Supreme Court Appellate Division.
But on Thursday, the court unanimously upheld Peres’ ruling, stating that the Giffords are welcome to believe as they wish about marriage, but cannot live out those religious convictions in running their business—reducing religion to an opinion as opposed to a practice.
“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,” Judge Karen Peters’ wrote.
Attorneys for Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) expressed disappointment in the ruling, stating that the couple should not be forced to violate their religious convictions.
“We had hoped that the court would recognize that the government has clearly gone too far,” said co-counsel James Trainor. “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.”
“All Americans should be free to live and work according to their beliefs, especially in our own backyards,” added co-counsel Caleb Dalton. “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. The court should have rejected this unwarranted and unconstitutional government intrusion, so we will consult with our client regarding appeal.”