Lesbian Couple Settle Lawsuit With Vermont Inn That Refused To Host Wedding Reception For Them
|Kate & Ming Linsley|
BURLINGTON, VT -- Kate and Ming Linsley of New York have settled a discrimination lawsuit they filed against the Wildflower Inn in Lyndonville, Vermont that refused to host their wedding reception. The couple contacted the New York ACLU after the inn's events manager told the mother of Ming Linsley that the inn did not host “gay receptions,” based on the religious beliefs of its owners. The Linsley's sued claiming that the inn's owners were discriminating based on sexual orientation.
The ACLU filed suit on the plaintiffs’ behalf in July of 2011 and the Vermont Human Rights Commission later intervened as a co-plaintiff in the proceedings. When the lawsuit was filed, Wildflower Inn owners Jim and Mary O’Reilly wrote in a prepared statement that they were devout Catholics who felt they could not “offer our services wholeheartedly to celebrate the marriage between same-sex couples because it goes against everything that we as Catholics believe in.”
According to the Burlington Free Press, the settlement calls for the Wildflower Inn to pay $10,000 to the Vermont Human Rights Commission as a civil penalty for violating Vermont’s Fair Housing and Public Accommodations Act, as well as $20,000 in a charitable trust to be disbursed by the couple, according to the Vermont Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.
In a statement released by Jim O’Reilly Thursday, he said the settlement shows that he and his wife were correct to rely on a state 2005 Human Rights Commission decision regarding disclosure of religious beliefs. O’Reilly states that the inn will no longer rely on that decision and additionally will no longer host any weddings.
“The Wildflower Inn has always served — and will continue to serve — everyone in our community. But no one can force us to abandon our deeply held beliefs about marriage,” O'Reilly said adding that they agreed to the settlement “to end this ordeal and the threat that the litigation posed” to the business. Vermont's Fair Housing and Public Accommodations law prohibits public accommodations from denying goods and services based on customers’ sexual orientation.
“We did not bring this lawsuit in order to punish the Wildflower Inn or to collect money,” said Kate Linsley, in a statement released by the ACLU. “We brought this lawsuit because we wanted people to know that what the Wildflower Inn did was illegal. We didn’t want to stay quiet and allow businesses to continue to think they can discriminate.”
Most of the $20,000 placed in the charitable trust will benefit non-profit organizations, with the remainder used to pay for some of the costs incurred in bringing the lawsuit, according to the ACLU.