No, Catholic innkeepers, your discriminatory religious beliefs do not entitle you to a special exemption from fair housing and public accommodations laws. (That would be seeking “special rights,” wouldn’t it?)
From the Burlington Free Press:
A couple has settled a discrimination lawsuit it filed against a Vermont inn that refused to host a wedding reception for the two women. The couple claimed the inn operators discriminated based on sexual orientation.
The settlement calls for the Wildflower Inn in Lyndonville 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.
Kate and Ming Linsley of New York contacted the ACLU after the inn’s events manager told Ming Linsley’s mother that, due to the innkeepers’ “personal feelings,” the inn did not host “gay receptions,” according to the organization.
In a statement, the owners of the Wildflower Inn said the settlement shows they were correct to rely on a 2005 Human Rights Commission decision regarding disclosure of religious beliefs. The inn will no longer rely on that decision and will no longer host weddings.
Sorry, but your “personal feelings” are irrelevant. If you operate a business, you cannot discriminate based on particulars of your customers’ identities. We’ve been there and done that in this country, and we’re not going back.
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.”
The O’Reillys later said applying Vermont’ s Fair Housing and Public Accommodations Act would violate their right to free speech and freedom of association by forcing them to hold “expressive events.”
In a statement Thursday, the O’Reillys said they agreed to the settlement “to end this ordeal and the threat that the litigation posed” to the business.
The 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.”
Kudos to Kate and Ming Linsley and the ACLU of Vermont for standing up to religion-based bigotry and challenging Jim and Mary O’Reilly’s claim that their Catholic faith gives them some kind of special right to discriminate against LGBT people.
By the way, Wildflower Inn has a Facebook page, just in case you’d like to respectfully let them know your thoughts on anti-LGBT discrimination and religion-based bigotry.