ALBANY, N.Y. — A couple in New York state who was fined $13,000 and ordered to re-educate their staff to accommodate same-sex ‘weddings’ has decided to close their wedding venue rather than violate their religious beliefs.
As previously reported, Robert and Cynthia Gifford 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.”
However, owner Robert Gifford, a Roman Catholic, told reporters that he believes he has a right to decide how he will operate his business, and that it’s not about the money—it’s about morality.
“I think it’s our right to choose who we market to, like any business,” he told WYNT-TV. “We are a family business and we feel we ought to stay down the family path.”
Earlier this month, Administrative Law Judge Migdalia Peres disagreed, 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.
But James Trainor, attorney for the Giffords said that the couple employs homosexuals and otherwise provides services to those involved in same-sex relationships.
“Liberty Ridge Farm … has employed gay people and has conducted events for same-sex couples,” he told reporters. “The Giffords’ objection was to hosting and participating in the wedding ceremony itself and not to providing service in general to lesbians.”
Nonetheless, 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 is 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.
Because of the order, the Giffords have now decided to close the wedding venue altogether, while keeping other parts of their farm operational, in order to avoid violating their religious beliefs.
“Going forward, [Cynthia and Robert Gifford] have decided to no longer host any wedding ceremonies on their property (other than the ones already under contract),” Trainer told reporters this week. “Since the order essentially compelled them to do all ceremonies or none at all, they have chosen the latter in order to stay true to their religious convictions, even though it will likely hurt their business in the short run. They will continue to host wedding receptions.”
As previously reported, a Christian-owned trolley company in Maryland likewise decided last year to discontinue its wedding services to avoid any legal entanglements. Matt Grubbs of Discover Annapolis Tours informed the Baltimore Sun that he will lose $50,000 a year because of his decision, but said that he would rather lose money than dishonor God.