BURLINGTON, Vt. — A Vermont inn has agreed to pay $30,000 to settle a discrimination lawsuit filed on behalf of a lesbian couple from New York who claimed that the inn refused to host their wedding reception because they were a same-sex couple.
The ACLU of New York filed the lawsuit in July 2011 on behalf of Kate and Ming Linsley, who alleged that they were turned away because of the inn’s owner has a “no-gay-reception policy.” 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 Vermont chapter of the ACLU, 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, reported the Burlington Free Press.
In a statement released Thursday, Jim O’Reilly said he and his wife were relying on a 2005 Vermont Human Rights Commission decision regarding disclosure of religious beliefs.
But it was the state’s Fair Housing and Public Accommodations Act that prohibits public accommodations from denying goods and services based on customers’ sexual orientation. The O’Reilly’s said claimed that act violated their right to free speech and freedom of association by forcing them to hold “expressive events,” and therefore would 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.
“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,” she said.
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.