Americans United Urges New York Supreme Court Not To Permit Wedding Venue To Discriminate Against LGBT Persons

For-Profit Businesses Do Not Have ‘Religious Freedom’ Right To Deny Services To Same-Sex Couples, Church-State Watchdog Says

A New York farm that hosts wedding ceremonies for profit does not have a “religious freedom” right to discriminate against same-sex couples, Americans United for Separation of Church and State says.

In a friend-of-the-court brief filed yesterday with the New York Supreme Court’s appellate division, Americans United argues that the First Amendment does not permit the owners of Liberty Ridge Farm in Schaghticoke, N.Y., to refuse service to gay couples. This brief is part of AU’s Protect Thy Neighbor project, an initiative that fights on behalf of victims of religion-based discrimination.

“If you run a for-profit business in New York, you have to be open to all comers,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “And if you think the First Amendment gives you the right to turn away LGBT persons, you may soon find yourself in legal trouble – just like the owners of Liberty Ridge Farm.”

The case has been ongoing since 2012, when the farm refused to allow Jennifer McCarthy and Melisa Erwin to rent the property for their wedding ceremony. The farm’s owners cited their religious beliefs as justification for the refusal. In response, the rejected couple filed a complaint.

Last year, the New York Division of Human Rights ruled in favor of McCarthy and Erwin, finding that the farm violated the state’s Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act. The farm was ordered to pay a $10,000 fine, plus $1,500 each to McCarthy and Erwin for emotional damages. But the farm appealed the ruling, arguing that it had a First Amendment right to discriminate against the couple.

That is not the case, Americans United says.

“The various parts of the First Amendment speak with one voice: a secular commercial business that provides services to the public has no free-speech, free-exercise, or free-association right that would exempt it from a legal requirement that it treat customers of all sexual orientations equally,” the brief states.

The brief was prepared by Americans United Senior Litigation Counsel Gregory M. Lipper and Madison Fellow Zachary A. Dietert. The case is Gifford v. McCarthy.