The New York state government has fined Cynthia and Robert Gifford, the owners of Liberty Ridge Farm, $13,000 because they refused to hold a same-sex wedding ceremony on their property.
Two lesbians, Melisa Erwin and Jennifer McCarthy, filed a formal complaint with the state Division of Human Rights, prompting Judge Migdalia Pares to rule that the farm was a “public accommodation.’’ Pares ordered the Giffords to pay a $10,000 fine to the state and two payments of $1,500, one for Erwin and one for McCarthy.
The issue began when Erwin called Cynthia Gifford to ask about holding a wedding there. Gifford replied that the farm did not hold same-sex weddings, unaware that McCarthy was surreptitiously taping the conversation.
The Giffords’ farm is in upstate Schaghticoke, near Albany. They have resided there for 25 years, raising a son, now 21, and a daughter, 17. The Giffords opened their farm for events 15 years ago, allowing receptions of all kinds on their property, including same-sex receptions, just not same-sex weddings.
Cynthia Gifford told the New York Post, “We respect and care for everyone! We had an openly gay man working for us this past season. We’ve had a woman who’s transitioning to be a man. We don’t discriminate against anyone.’’
She added, “This is scary. Scary for all Americans.”
The lesbians’ lawyer, Mariko Hirose from the New York Civil Liberties Union, huffed, “They were devastated when they heard that Liberty Ridge Farm would not take their business because of who they are. NYCLU supports religious freedom. That still doesn’t make it OK for businesses to break existing law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, race, sex, disability, religion or other protected categories.’’
James Trainor, the attorney for the Giffords, said, “We’ve gone from tolerance to compulsion. State government should not be forcing people to violate their own religious beliefs, nor should they be forced to make a choice between making a living and violating their own faith. I think there is an effort under way to change the social order. One way is by redefining marriage.’’
Trainor and Alliance Defending Freedom are joined in their battle for people of faith. Last month, Trainor filed an appeal with the state Appellate Division to get the fines returned to the Giffords. The Giffords had to lose a full-time event planner because of their financial losses.