Kate Baker and Ming Linsley never thought their hopes of walking down the aisle would lead them down the halls of the Statehouse instead.
Baker said, "If we don't speak up when we're mistreated then how can we expect other people to treat us well?"
The lesbian couple from New York said they chose to get married in Vermont because of the state's support of gay rights. They're now working with the American Civil Liberties Union to sue the Wildflower Inn resort in Lyndonville for refusing to host the couple's wedding reception because of the inn owners' religious beliefs.
"A public establishment told me that my daughter, who they've never met, couldn't have her wedding reception there just because of who she is. I felt that my daughter had been attacked," said Channie Peters, Ming Linsley's mother.
Peters had contacted the Wildflower Inn about hosting the wedding, but after talking to the events coordinator and clarifying that it would be two brides and no groom she received a shocking email just five minutes later. The emails subject title was "I have bad news" and stated, "After our conversation, I checked in with my inn keepers and unfortunately due to their personal feelings, they do not host gay receptions at our facility."
"Unfortunately, we think the sad fact of Kate's and Ming's experience outlines a clear-cut violation of Vermont's Public Accommodations Law," said Dan Barrett of the ACLU.
The law states that a public accommodation like the inn cannot refuse or deny a person of any accommodations, facilities or privileges based upon things like race or sexual orientation.
Innkeepers Jim and Mary O'Reilly say they never spoke with the couple directly and that the events coordinator handled the issue the wrong way. They also released this statement: "We have never refused rooms or dining or employment to gays or lesbians... We do not however, feel that we can offer our personal services wholeheartedly to celebrate the marriage between same sex couples because it goes against everything that we as Catholics believe in."
Linsley and Baker say they aren't looking for money here, but for symbolic damages they are suing the inn for just $1.
"The reason why I've been so fortunate is that other people have stood up and said when their rights had been violated," Linsley said. "So, I felt like I would be doing a disservice to those who come after me."
The Wildflower Inn's website now says they are no longer hosting any weddings or special events, but are still open for lodging.
Under Vermont's gay marriage law there are protections for religious groups that do not want to perform same-sex weddings, but it appears those do not apply in this case. A legal expert said even though the owners are Catholic and don't believe in same-sex marriage, the Wildflower Inn is a public accommodation-- not a religious group-- meaning they cannot pick and choose who they serve. The only possible out according to legal experts, would be if the owners were members of the clergy, which they are not. The same goes for New York's new gay marriage law.
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