NYCLU Victory: Wedding Venues Cannot Discriminate Against Same-Sex Couples

August 14, 2014 —  The New York State Division of Human Rights has affirmed it is illegal for businesses to discriminate based on sexual orientation. The New York Civil Liberties Union victory came in the case of Melisa and Jennifer McCarthy, whose wedding was rejected by the owners of an Albany area farm and wedding venue when the owners found out that they were a same-sex couple.

“No one should have the happiest time of their life marred by discrimination,” said Jennifer McCarthy. “We hope this decision will protect all New Yorkers from having to go through the hurt that we experienced.”

Liberty Ridge Farm boasts it is a “picturesque setting for weddings all year round!” But the farm’s promised charms turned sour when its owners rejected the McCarthy’s 2012 request to wed there because they are same sex. Cynthia and Robert Gifford argued that they do not allow same-sex couples to get married at their business because they oppose same-sex marriage. But discrimination based on sexual orientation is explicitly barred under New York’s Human Rights Law which prohibits establishments providing services and conveniences to the public from discriminating against protected groups.

“Marriage should be a time of celebration, not discrimination,” said NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman. “This ruling sets an important precedent protecting the rights of LGBT New Yorkers, and will help ensure that businesses understand New York law and treat all patrons with the dignity and respect they deserve.”

“All New Yorkers are entitled to their own religious beliefs, but businesses cannot discriminate based on sexual orientation anymore than they can based on race or national origin,” said NYCLU Staff Attorney Mariko Hirose, lead counsel on the case. “We applaud the courage of the McCarthys for knowing their rights and standing up against discrimination.”

The couple, who have been together more than four years, always dreamed of getting married on a farm. The pair finally wed last August at a farm in Central Bridge.