Vermont Inn Denies Wedding Reception to Same-Sex Couple

ACLU: Resort illegally discriminated against lesbian brides

The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Vermont have filed a lawsuit against a Vermont resort that refused to host a lesbian wedding reception, allegedly due to the owners’ anti-gay bias. Vermont law prohibits denying access to public accommodations based on sexual orientation.

The plaintiffs in Baker and Linsley v. Wildflower Inn, New York couple Kate Baker and Ming Linsley, planned to have their wedding ceremony at a Buddhist retreat in Vermont and the following reception at a nearby resort. Linsley’s mother, Channie Peters, asked the Vermont Convention Bureau for recommendations and the bureau sent her request to its membership. The Wildflower Inn in Lyndonville, an award-winning family resort, responded to Peters’ inquiry on October 29, 2010 and described itself as the “perfect location” for Baker and Linsley’s reception.

Peters called the inn on November 5 and spoke to an event manager about the reception details. During the conversation, the representative referred to the “bride and groom.” Peters clarified that the wedding was between two brides. Within a few minutes of hanging up the phone, Peters received an e-mail from the hotel employee informing her that the inn was rescinding its invitation.

“After our conversation, I checked in with my Innkeepers and unfortunately due to their personal feelings, they do not host gay receptions at our facility,” the e-mail read in part.

“I had been so excited to help plan my only daughter’s wedding reception, so when the Wildflower Inn told me that my daughter wasn’t welcome there, it was like being kicked in the stomach,” Peters said in a statement. “Someone who didn’t even know us was telling me that my lovely daughter wasn’t good enough to have her reception at their facility while everyone else who sees the resort’s Web site is welcome.”

The Wildflower Inn’s Web site advertises “four seasons for everyone” along with outdoor recreation, children’s activities and spa services. Innkeepers Jim and Mary O’Reilly have owned and operated the inn since 1985, and several of their eight children work at the facility.

Legal rules

Vermont’s Fair Housing and Public Accommodations Act prohibits any public accommodations—including inns, restaurants, stores and other businesses that serve the general public—from denying goods and services based on customers’ sexual orientation. The act contains exceptions for religious organizations and inns with fewer than five rooms. The Wildflower Inn offers 24 guest rooms.

“The law is clear that any business that provides a service to the public can’t pick and choose who they want to serve based on the customer’s race, gender, sexual orientation, or gender identity,” said Joshua Block, staff attorney for the ACLU Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Project. “If we allow one group of people to be singled out and denied basic rights and service, we are violating the basic American values of justice and fairness for everyone.”

In 2000, Vermont became the first state to legalize civil unions for same sex couples, a then-controversial status that has since been replicated in other states. In 2009, the Vermont legislature voted to legalize same-sex marriage, overriding the governor’s veto.

Pattern of discrimination?

The innkeepers did not immediately respond to GO’s request for comment. But a review posted on the travel advice Web site hinted that the alleged problem had occurred before.

Though the majority of the inn’s reviews on TripAdvisor are positive, one user stayed at the inn in September 2010 and posted a negative review. “We went for a romantic weekend getaway. The location is breathtaking and the rooms were fine…However, the service at the Wildflow[er] Inn was just awful. The staff were cold and unfriendly to us and seemed homophobic,” claimed the user, a woman traveling with her female partner.

Jim O’Reilly, the innkeeper, personally responded to the review 10 days later. “We have a number of friends that are homosexual, we have many guests that are homosexual and we’ve employed homosexuals. So that statement is totally untrue. I have never seen any of our staff treat any guest differently because of their sexual preference,” he wrote. “I do want to make a point in saying that we do treat all guests the same.”

As of yesterday, the Wildflower Inn’s Web site claimed it “no longer hosting weddings or special events.”

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