Same-Sex Couple Vs. Wedding Venue

Nov 7, 2013

Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings signs documents for a same-sex couple during midnight hour marriages July 2011 at City Hall.
Credit WAMC photo by Dave Lucas

In 2011, New York became the sixth and largest state to sanction same-sex unions. Hailed at the time as a landmark moment for gay rights, the power of that law is being tested today.

What was unthinkable decades ago and until recently only a dream for same-sex couples is now reality - but a pending court case demonstrates public acceptance is not a given. Melisa and Jennie McCarthy, formerly of Albany, filed a complaint against Liberty Ridge Farm in October 2012. The lesbian couple has asked New York's Division of Human Rights agency to rule that the Schaghticoke wedding venue broke the law when its operators refused to book their wedding. The same-sex couple is seeking damages in a case that could set precedent.

A spokesman for farm owners Robert and Cynthia Gifford says their farm is a private business on private property.  Jason McGuire, executive director of New Yorkers For Constitutional Freedoms, says that the Giffords affirm their constitutional freedom of religion trumps state law and allows them to "conscientiously object" to something they don't believe is appropriate. McGuire faults the language of the law.

Attorneys from the New York Civil Liberties Union told an administrative law judge Wednesday that the 100-acre farm is a business open to the public and subject to the state's anti-discrimination laws.

Political consultant Libby Post was founding chair of the Empire State Pride Agenda. She says there is legal precedent supporting the McCarthy's position.  Jason McGuire believes Americans will see more infringements of religious freedoms and constitutional challenges.

The two sides reportedly had discussed a settlement that was rejected by the Human Rights Division. The McCarthy's were married in the Albany area in early August, and have since left New York.