Vermont B&B Turns Away Lesbian Couple

August 26, 2011 at 3:09 pm Leave a comment

A Vermont bed and breakfast has found itself up against a discrimination lawsuit after refusing to host the wedding of a lesbian couple.

The lawsuit against the Wildflower Inn was filed last month at Vermont’s Superior Court by the American Civil Liberties Union, on behalf of Katherine Baker and Ming-Lien Linsley.

Linsley’s mother made an initial enquiry into holding the couple’s wedding reception at the B&B in October 2010 and were told by the events manager that “unfortunately due to their [the inkeepers’] personal feelings, we do not host gay receptions at our facility.” The plaintiffs claim that this is against Vermont’s Fair Housing and Public Accommodations Act, which states that public accommodations may not refuse service on the basis of sexual orientation, except for hotels with fewer than 6 rooms and religious organisations.

The couple have asked the court to declare that a violation of state law had occurred, and to issue an injunction preventing the B&B from enforcing its homophobic policy. They also asked for attorney’s fees plus nominal damages of $1. The B&B claims that they are protected by the First Amendment, although they also say that their events manager never informed them of the request. They denied having such a policy but argued that applying state law in this situation would violate their right to the free exercise of their religion, freedom from compelled speech or expression and freedom of expressive association, under Vermont’s Constitution and the First Amendment.

Jim O’Reilly, one of the inn’s owners, would not discuss the litigation while it was still active, but said that he hoped the situation would be resolved ‘quickly and fairly.’

The ACLU insisted, “It’s a very straightforward case, because there’s something in writing from the defendant refusing to serve our clients. The only defense offered by the inn is that they think the First Amendment allows it to sidestep Vermont’s law — and we don’t think that has any merit. This has been on the books for about 20 years — way before we had equal unions in Vermont. This a pretty cut-and-dried case.”

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