Should the government be able to coerce a family farm into hosting a same-sex wedding?
In a free society, the answer is no. Family farms should be free to operate in accordance with the beliefs and values of their owners. Government shouldn’t be able to fine citizens for acting in the market according to their own—rather than the government’s—values, unless there is a compelling government interest being pursued in the least restrictive way possible.
But the New York State Division of Human Rights doesn’t see things this way. On August 8, it fined Cynthia and Robert Gifford $13,000 for acting on their belief that marriage is the union of a man and woman and thus declining to rent out their family farm for a same-sex wedding celebration. The Human Rights Commission ruled that “the nature and circumstances of the [Giffords’] violation of the Human Rights Law also warrants a penalty.”
This is coercive big government run amok.
Here’s the back story. In 2012, Melisa Erwin and Jennifer McCarthy contacted the Giffords to rent the family’s barn for their same-sex wedding ceremony and reception. Cynthia Gifford responded that she and her husband would have to decline their request as they felt they could not in good conscience host a same-sex wedding ceremony at their home. The Giffords live on the second and third floor of the barn and, when they host weddings on the first floor, they open part of the second floor as a bridal suite.The Giffords have owned and operated Liberty Ridge Farm in Schaghticoke, New York for over 25 years. Like many small farm families, they often open the farm to the public for events like berry picking, fall festivals, and pig racing.
Should the government be in the business of “re-educating” its citizens to change their moral beliefs?
They also open their home for weddings and receptions. When the Giffords host weddings, they are involved in every aspect of the wedding planning and celebration: they greet and drive guests in their farm trolley, decorate the barn, set up floral arrangements, arrange fireworks displays, and provide catering. As the Human Rights Commission ruling even points out, “the only wedding-related service Liberty Ridge Farm does not offer is providing the official for the wedding ceremony.”
As many brides know, planning a wedding requires hours of careful work to organize in order to pull off the celebration—hours during which family businesses operating venues like the Giffords’ actively participate in the weddings they host. The Giffords believe that as free citizens running a business, they should have the right to decline to participate in an event that does not reflect their values.
Unfortunately, New York’s Human Right’s law (Executive Law, art. 15) creates special privileges based on sexual orientation that trump the rights of business owners. Because the Giffords’ family farm is open to the public for business, New York classifies it as a “public accommodation” and then mandates that it not “discriminate” on the basis of sexual orientation.
Of course the Giffords were not engaging in any insidious discrimination—they were acting on their belief about the nature of marriage. They do not object to gay or lesbian customers attending the fall festivals, or going berry picking, or doing any of the other activities that the farm facilitates. The Giffords’ only objection is to being forced to abide by the government’s views on sexuality and host a same-sex wedding. The Human Rights Commission has now declared this historic belief about marriage to be “discrimination.”
The Giffords must pay a $1,500 mental anguish fine to each of the women and pay $10,000 in civil damages penalty to New York State. If they can’t pay in 60 days, a nine percent interest rate will be added to that total. Like Jack Phillips of Masterpiece Cakeshop, the Giffords must also institute anti-discrimination re-education classes and procedures for their staff.
The question before all citizens is whether this law and this fine are just. Should the government be able to force family businesses to betray their consciences and participate in ceremonies that violate their beliefs? Should the government be in the business of “rehabilitating” consciences or “re-educating” its citizens to change their moral beliefs about the definition of marriage?
Government should not create special legal privileges based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Instead, government should protect the rights of Americans and the associations they form to act in the public square in accordance with their beliefs. The Giffords’ case illustrates the growing conflict between religious liberty rights and laws that grant special privileges based on sexual orientation and gender identity. In a nation founded on limited government and religious freedom, government should not attempt to coerce any citizen, association, or business into celebrating same-sex relationships.
…“People should not have to violate their religious and moral convictions—especially in their own homes—as the price of doing business. People of faith should not be forced to participate in a same-sex ‘wedding’ when it violates their beliefs.”
McGuire noted that when same-sex “marriage” was legalized in New York in 2011, Christians and others were assured that they were protected under a religious freedom amendment, but now he finds that amendment useless.
“When the bill was passed, we were promised that the religious freedom amendment to New York’s same-sex ‘marriage’ legislation would do the job. We were told it would be the strongest in the nation. Our legislators bought the lie and today every New Yorker is living the lie. Town clerks, justices and businesses are impacted by the Empire State’s religious freedom farce,” he stated. “There is no protection in New York law that did not already exist prior to the bill’s passage. But after gay ‘marriage’ was enacted, clerks are out of work and business owners are facing human rights complaints. That’s the reality we are living today.”…
“That the Giffords also reside at Gifford Barn, does not render it private,” the judge said in her ruling, according to RNS. As such, the Giffords “unlawfully discriminated against complainants solely on the basis of their sexual orientation.”
The farm’s owners were ordered to pay $13,000 in fines and restitution, the state Division of Human Rights ruled. McCarthy and Erwin, who are now married, filed a complaint with the agency.
The Giffords are considering their legal options, Trainor said.
“Liberty Ridge Farm … has employed gay people and has conducted events for same-sex couples,” Trainor told RNS. “The Giffords’ objection was to hosting and participating in the wedding ceremony itself and not to providing service in general to lesbians.”
While the Liberty Farms case represents the most recent legal challenge to private businesses that provide wedding services but refuse to provide them to same-sex couples, it is unique because public accommodation laws usually don’t apply to private residences, said Adam Winkler, a law professor at the University of California-Los Angeles.
“It is just another case in the many battles in the fight over public accommodation of same-sex marriages,” Winkler told RNS. “If you want to open yourself up to the public, there’s a cost, which is that you can’t discriminate.”
Two farmers in rural Rensselaer County must pay $13,000 in fines and restitution after they rebuffed a lesbian couple who inquired about getting married at their farm, a state agency ruled.
Jennifer McCarthy and her now-wife Melisa (nee Erwin) found Liberty Ridge Farm, which overlooks the Hudson River in Schaghticoke, several miles north of Troy, on the internet and hoped to rent it for their wedding ceremony and reception. Cynthia Gifford, who along with her husband offer a corn maze, market and events at the 100-acre farm, told Melisa McCarthy her same-sex marriage would cause “a little bit of a problem” because the Giffords have a “specific religious belief regarding marriage,” according to court papers.
McCarthy and her wife brought a complaint in conjunction with the New York Civil Liberties Union, saying Liberty Ridge Farm was a public accommodation and the Giffords’ actions were unlawfully discriminatory under state law.
While the McCarthys never entered into a rental contract for the facility, an administrative law judge ruled Gifford “implicitly rescinded the invitation” when she learned Melisa McCarthy’s spouse-to-be was also a woman.
“The policy to not allow same-sex marriage ceremonies on Liberty Ridge Farm is a denial of access to a place of public accommodation,” Judge Migdalia Pares wrote. She said the Giffords should pay $3,000 to the women—$1,500 each—for “mental anguish each suffered as a result of respondents’ unlawfully discriminatory conduct.” Citing “the goal of deterrence” as well as the Giffords’ clear stance against same-sex weddings, Pares fined the Giffords an additional $10,000.
Pares’ order was adopted formally last week by Human Rights commissioner Helen Diane Foster.
Same-sex marriage was legalized in 2011, after a push from Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo. Many Republicans and conservatives oppose the law, arguing it infringes on private businesses. Democrats have always responded to these charges by noting existing laws for any public accommodation prevent discrimination against interracial couples, say, or couples of different religions.
The Giffords’ lawyer, James Trainor, said the couple is “evaluating” a possible appeal, and said he was surprised the ruling to did not incorporate the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent Hobby Lobby decision, in which justices said a closely-held company could deny some forms of contraception to its employees because they conflicted with the religious beliefs of its owners.
“We’re disappointed that neither the judge nor the commissioner even mentioned the Gifford’s … First Amendment rights, including the right not to be compelled to participate in a religious ceremony which violates their own religious beliefs,” Trainor wrote in an email. He said the monetary penalty is a “significant burden” to the family that is “disproportionate to the single interaction between the parties – a telephone call of several minutes duration.”
NYCLU executive director Donna Lieberman hailed the decision.
“Marriage should be a time of celebration, not discrimination,” said NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman. “This ruling sets an important precedent protecting the rights of LGBT New Yorkers, and will help ensure that businesses understand New York law and treat all patrons with the dignity and respect they deserve.”
Here is the full decision: http://bit.ly/1mNyGOf
What if you hold deep religious views that certain races are not worthy, in the eyes of YOUR God, and you don’t have to serve them?
I wonder if at some point, they’ll all be gone ??
So in other words, you think the government has the right to hold a gun to a Christian’s head and shout “OBEY!”
Sounds like what you’d think.