Gay people in New York have had the right to get married for more than a year. Bigots have had the right to be fear-mongering assholes since the drafting of the U.S. Constitution — but do they have the right to decide to not host a wedding because the two people getting married happen to be lesbians?
That’s what a court will be forced to decide in what will be a precedent-setting decision after two women filed a discrimination claim against an upstate farm that is refusing to let them tie the knot on its property because they’re lesbians.
The couple — Melisa Erwin and Jenny McCarthy — decided earlier this year to tie the knot. When they started searching for venues — Google searching the words “barn wedding Albany” — they discovered Liberty Ridge Farm in Schaghticoke, which is just north of Albany.
When they called the farm to book a date, however, they were told they couldn’t get married there. The reason: They’re lesbians.
The two women have been together for three years. When they found Liberty Ridge, they say it fit their budget and seemed like a nice spot to get hitched. But the farm’s owner, Robert Gifford, told them it wasn’t available — for lesbians.
“When we asked why it was just, ‘That’s what my husband and I decided. We’ve been married a long time, and it’s great you’re getting married and all, but you can’t do it here,'” McCarthy told an Upstate television station.
Gifford, however, says it’s up to him to decide who can and can’t get married on his farm.
“I think it’s our right to choose who we market to, like any business,” Gifford says.
He adds that, “We are a family business, and we just feel we ought to stay down the family path.”
Maybe, but New York’s Human Rights Law bans “places of accommodation” from discriminating against homosexuals, and David Fallon, the discrimination attorney representing the couple in a discrimination claims against the farm, says they have a strong argument that the farm is a place of “public accommodation.”
One minor hurdle for the couple — as far as their discrimination claim is concerned — is the fact that because New York’s gay marriage law is so new, there’s no case law for a judge to consider.
Be that as it may, the state allows certain exemptions from discrimination laws for venues with religious affiliations or membership — like the Knights of Columbus — when it comes to gay marriage. But Liberty Ridge has no membership program, or religious affiliation; it’s just a farm — owned by bigots.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 18, 2012