In the bucolic town of Schaghticoke, NY, Liberty Ridge Farm serves as a setting for family outings and events of all sorts on a family owned farm in the country. They are open to the public for a portion of each year, featuring events ranging from day camps to field trips to a corn maze. And until recently they hosted weddings. That all changed after the owners, Cynthia and Robert Gifford, encountered Melisa Erwin and Jennifer McCarthy, a lesbian couple who approached the Giffords about holding their wedding there. Cynthia Gifford declined, citing her religious beliefs.
The couple tape recorded a conversation with the owners and took their complaint to the New York State Division of Human Rights. Things went downhill quickly from there.
In July, an administrative law judge found the Giffords had discriminated against the couple and ordered fines totaling $13,000—$1,500 mental anguish fine to each of the women and a $10,000 civil damages penalty to the state.
The Giffords didn’t know about the official complaint until a TV reporter showed up to interview them about it.
“There was the reporter and the camera person, and I thought, ‘Oh great, we’re going to get some publicity about our fall festival,’” Cynthia Gifford recalled. “And the reporter asked if we could step away from the customers—I did not understand why.”
The Giffords had to pay the full amount before they could appeal the decision. If they had not paid within 90 days of the ruling, penalties in the amount of 9 percent would have begun to accrue.
Though they paid up, the attorney for the Giffords has stated that they will be “appealing every facet of the judge’s decision” and fighting to see that their religious beliefs are being respected.
This is yet another of the increasingly common cases which could have been avoided entirely with just a bit of common courtesy and mutual respect. Obviously Ms. Erwin and Ms. McCarthy could have found any number of great places to get married other than this farm. (This is New York, after all.) If the Giffords politely told them they would prefer not to host the event, there was no compelling reason that they had to have the ceremony there. But this looks like another case of people looking to stick it to a business owner to turn the situation into a court fight and get the battle flags flying.
From the legal perspective, though, I’m not sure how well the Giffords will fare. From the layman’s point of view, this seems to be a case of religious freedom (not dissimilar in some ways to Hobby Lobby) rather than some sort of gay rights discrimination case. But these types of lawsuits have not gone well in many cases, particularly if you make wedding cakes. And while Liberty Ridge is described as a family farm, it is clearly a business which charges a fee to host many events, including weddings. With the bakery cases as precedents, this may not go well.
In the meantime, things have changed at the farm. Their events page summarizes the change which they felt compelled to make in order to stay true to their beliefs. They still host receptions, but…
Interested in even more information about Liberty Ridge Farm wedding receptions? Please make an appointment to meet with our wedding coordinator and tour the farm’s facilities.
Ceremony – Presently, Liberty Ridge Farm does not host ceremonies on site.
That just sounds kind of sad.