Religious farmers refuse to host gay wedding – fined $13,000 and forced to attend “re-education training classes”
A court has ruled against a husband and wife who own a farm in central New York, upholding a $13,000 fine that was imposed over the couple’s refusal to host a same-sex wedding on their property back in 2012.
The New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division, Third Department, upheld a punishment imposed by New York’s Division of Human Rights that included $10,000 in fines and $3,000 in damages to be paid by Cynthia and Robert Gifford, owners of Liberty Ridge Farm, a farm and special events venue in Schaghticoke, New York.
The couple was also reportedly told to implement mandatory courses that the Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative legal firm, described in a press release as “re-education training classes designed to contradict the couple’s religious beliefs about marriage.”
Attorneys with the organization had argued that the First Amendment protects the Christian couple, comparing forcing the family to host the wedding on the farm property to forcing someone to salute the American flag inside of a school, but that argument clearly didn’t resonate.
“We had hoped that the court would recognize that the government has clearly gone too far,” James Trainor, an attorney working with the Alliance Defending Freedom, said of the case. “The Constitution prohibits the government from forcing anyone to help communicate messages that conflict with their core beliefs about marriage. The Giffords welcome all people to the farm, but not all messages or events.”
As TheBlaze previously reported, the legal battle touched off in 2012 after the Giffords told Jennifer McCarthy and Melisa Erwin, a lesbian couple from Newark, New Jersey, that they were welcome to hold their reception on the property, but not the actual wedding ceremony, according to Religion News Service.
The Giffords live on the premises; weddings are typically conducted on the first floor of their home or on the nearby property. McCarthy and Erwin, angry over the rejection, took their grievances — and audio from their conversation with the farm owners that was reportedly secretly recorded — to New York’s Division of Human Rights, claiming that they were discriminated against as a result of their sexual orientation.
A judge agreed and the farm owners were fined $10,000 plus an additional $3,000 in damages for violating anti-discrimination regulations under New York’s Human Rights Law; the state legalized gay marriage in 2011.
The couple began the appeal process back in October 2014, taking the case to the New York Supreme Court in Rensselaer County, which was later transferred to the New York Supreme Court Appellate Division, Third Department in Albany.
Trainor told TheBlaze in 2014 that the Gifford family would no longer host any weddings on their property as a result of the legal battle.
“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),” Trainor said. “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.”
The Alliance Defending Freedom is currently discussing appeals options with the Giffords.