Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Wildflower Inn Sued Over Refusal to Host Gay Wedding

MONTPELIER, Vt. — Two New York women say a Vermont inn refused to host their wedding reception because of the owners' anti-gay bias. The couple is now suing, alleging discrimination under the state's public accommodations law.
Kate Baker and Ming Linsley say they were turned away by the Wildflower Inn, a 24-room inn in Lyndonville, when they told the inn the wedding would have two brides but no groom.
A woman who answered the telephone at the Wildflower Inn said the owners weren't taking calls on the case.
The American Civil Liberties Union's Vermont chapter filed the lawsuit Tuesday in Caledonia Superior Court. It says the inn violated the state Fair Housing and Public Accommodations Act, which bars public accommodations from denying services to people based on sexual orientation.

Mother-of-the-bride Channie Peters set about trying to find a place to hold a wedding reception. With help from the Vermont Convention Bureau, Peters received an email from the meetings and events director of the Wildflower Inn that read in part "the Wildflower Inn would be the perfect location ..." and continued "You could not offer a better "destination wedding" location for your guests." But when Peters mentioned there would be a "bride and bride" instead of a "bride and groom," she received an email with the subject line: "I have bad news," and that's when the O'Reilly's alleged policy against holding gay receptions at their inn came to light.

Linsley and Baker, who both live and work in New York City, said they wanted to proceed with the lawsuit because up until last October, they said they hadn't experienced much discrimination as a same-sex couple. "People before us have stood up and spoken out" to fight for their rights, said Linsley. And Linsley and Baker wanted to do the same. "It is hurtful to see that we are less welcome than the family dog," said Linsley.

Calls to the O'Reilly's home in Vermont were not returned. And a woman who answered the phone at the Wildflower Inn said she could not comment on the lawsuit. The inn updated its website today to say it is "no longer hosting weddings or special events."

The lawsuit's allegations are particularly jarring, given that Vermont is known as one of the most liberal states in the country. The Green Mountain State has allowed civil unions between same sex couples since 2000, and gay marriage has been legal since 2009. Tourism is one of Vermont's main industries, and gay-marriage related business has been brisk.

The O'Reillys have 20 days to file a response to the allegations. The ACLU's Barrett believes he has a solid case. "We understand this to be a policy of the owners. We understand that this has happened to other potential customers," he said, adding that his clients are asking for a declaratory judgment, which means they want the court to declare that what happened to them was illegal.

Despite their experience at the Wildflower Inn, the couple did find a place to host their wedding reception, and the ceremony will take place this fall.

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