A Christian family that runs a farm in New York turned down a request to host a same-sex wedding ceremony on their property, which led to them being fined. They argued that an "orchestrated set-up" was used by the same-sex couple who successfully sued them.
According to Valerie Richardson of the Washington Times, Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys representing Cynthia and Robert Gifford, the property owners, argued in a brief filed Thursday that the ruling from the New York State Division of Human Rights violated the First Amendment, describing the penalty as an "orchestrated set-up." In addition to the state's $10,000 fine for violating a "human rights ordinance," the Giffords were ordered to pay $3,000 to Melisa Erwin and Jennifer McCarthy for "mental pain and suffering."
"The evidence, however, indicates that Respondents were aware of the Giffords' beliefs and chose specifically to call and record Mrs. Gifford for the purposes of documenting the Giffords' policy," the attorneys wrote in their brief submitted to the New York Supreme Court. "Such an orchestrated set-up can hardly form the basis for 'mental anguish' and suffering."
Alliance Defending Freedom senior counsel Byron Babione thought that some cases similar to the Giffords were "driven by activism."
"I think in many of these cases, they know or at least suspect that these are folks with religious objections," Babione said. "We think that's the case here, and we think that's an uncontested fact."
According to Richardson, both Erwin and McCarthy recorded the conversation, which could indicate that the couple knew in advance that the Giffords would turn down their request. Babione thought this aspect of the case was relevant because "it's important for the court to understand the context."
"[The women] were so upset that they stopped looking for wedding venues for several months," the ruling stated, adding that it took Erwin and McCarthy two to three months to find another place to hold their same-sex marriage.
McCarthy indicated to Richardson that the rejection was "heartbreaking" and made her "very upset."
"No one should have the happiest time of their life marred by discrimination," McCarthy said in a statement. "We hope this decision will protect all New Yorkers from having to go through the hurt that we experienced."
Richardson reported that according to the brief, the court convicted the Giffords of "sexual orientation discrimination" after declining to "host and coordinate a same-sex ceremony" in 2012 at their New York farm. The judge ruled that their property was considered a space for "public accommodation," but the brief filed by Giffords' attorneys countered that ruling.
"The wedding area is accessible only when the Giffords enter into a contract with someone who wants to hold their wedding ceremony there," the brief said, noting that the weddings happened in a fenced-off area next to the first floor of their private home.
However, the brief also stated that while the Giffords would not host a same-sex wedding ceremony on their property due to their Christian beliefs, gay couples can hold other events there.
"The Giffords serve everyone, including individuals who identify as gay and lesbian," the brief said. "In fact, the Giffords will gladly host myriad events, including wedding receptions, for same-sex couples."
The brief added that "it is only same-sex wedding ceremonies that the Giffords cannot host or participate in."
Richardson reported that New York legalized same-sex marriages back in 2011.