Wedding Venue Has No Religious Right to Discriminate, Says NY Court

Good news out of New York: today an appeals court rejected efforts by a commercial wedding venue, Liberty Ridge Farm, to avoid liability for prohibiting a same-sex couple from renting the venue for their wedding.

The wedding venue’s conduct violated New York’s antidiscrimination law, which prohibits (among other things) discrimination the basis of sexual orientation by public accommodations. Represented by Alliance Defending Freedom, a religious-right group, the wedding venue argued that its antigay discrimination was protected by the constitutional rights to free speech, free association, and the free-exercise of religion.

In rejecting the wedding venue’s defenses to liability for discrimination, the New York appeals court engaged in a straightforward application of free-speech and free-exercise doctrine. A commercial wedding venue is not speaking, associating, or exercising religion when it rents out its property for events—it is providing a commercial service, and it is properly subject to anti-discrimination laws. Just as a wedding venue has no right to discriminate against interracial couples—no matter what the venue’s owners’ religious beliefs—a wedding venue has no right to discriminate against same-sex couples. The New York appellate court correctly rejected the Religious Right’s attempt to create a constitutional right to discriminate.

We filed a friend-of-the-court brief in this case last summer; you can read it here.

Greg Lipper (@theglipper) is Senior Litigation Counsel at Americans United.