ALBANY, N.Y. — A New York couple who declined to host a same-sex “wedding” at their farm because of their religious convictions not to facilitate the sins of others has decided not to appeal a ruling ordering that they pay $13,000 in fines over the matter.
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 last month, the court unanimously upheld Peres’ ruling, stating that the Giffords are welcome to hold to their personal opinions about marriage, but cannot live out their religious convictions in running their business—reducing religion to a mental viewpoint as opposed to an inviolable whole-life 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.
Now, according to Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), which had represented the Giffords in court, the couple has decided “not to appeal the ruling and are evaluating how to best run Liberty Ridge Farm under a legal regime that disregards their convictions.”
“Americans should be free to live and work peacefully according to their beliefs, especially in our own backyards. 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,” said legal counsel Caleb Dalton in a statement. “This kind of governmental coercion should disturb every freedom-loving American no matter where you stand on marriage.”
“[T]hey still feel very strongly about their religious convictions and their right to be able to exercise their religious liberties through their work,” added attorney James Trainor to the Daily Signal. “It’s just unfortunate that the climate is such that our state and the federal government don’t allow us to do that.”
In an article lamenting that businesses are being forced to accept orders for events that violate their conscience, John Carpenter of Covenant Reformed Baptist Church in Providence, North Carolina also noted, “It is people who have civil rights, not events.”