Vt. Human Rights Commission Intervenes in Lesbian Discrimination Suit

Inn has “no legal right to discriminate,” says ACLU

The Vermont Human Rights Commission has asked to intervene in an American Civil Liberties Union case in support of a lesbian couple who were told by a resort that they would not be able to hold their wedding reception because the resort has a “no gay receptions” policy.  

As reported in the September issue of GO Magazine, the lesbian couple—Brooklynites Ming Linsley and Kate Baker—have sued the Wildflower Inn in Lyndonville, Vt. for refusing to host their wedding reception. According to the suit filed by the ACLU, the innkeepers initially welcomed the couple to their resort, but then rescinded the invitation when they realized Linsley and Baker were gay.

If the court rules in favor of the Wildflower Inn, the Human Rights Commission states that it would be unable to enforce the Vermont Fair Housing and Public Accommodations Act, which prohibits denying access to public accommodations (such as hotels, inns and restaurants) based on sexual orientation. 

The Wildflower Inn maintains that it has a First Amendment right to turn away Linsley and Baker based on the innkeepers’ religious beliefs. Owners Jim and Mary O’Reilly are devout Catholics who argued in their answer to the legal complaint that hosting a lesbian wedding reception “violates their free-exercise rights” of religious expression. The defendants seek to have the Fair Housing and Public Accommodations Act declared unconstitutional.

The First Amendment does not give public commercial businesses a license to discriminate,” said Joshua Block, staff attorney for the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Project. “When a business chooses to opens its doors to the public, it must follow the state’s public accommodations laws and can’t pick and choose which customers it wants to serve.”

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