The American Civil Liberties Union on Tuesday filed a lawsuit against a Vermont resort that refused to host a lesbian couple’s wedding reception.
Kate Baker and Ming Linsley, a New York couple, wanted to hold their wedding ceremony at a Buddhist retreat in Vermont and then hold a reception at a nearby inn. The Wildflower Inn was recommended due to its spacious 24-room facilities and its award-winning reputation. When the events manager for the Wildflower Inn learned that it was a lesbian couple who would be staying at the resort, they were told that due to the innkeepers’ “personal feelings” the inn does not host “gay receptions.” Vermont law prohibits denial of services relating to sexual orientation.
It was in fact Linsley’s mother, Channie Peters, who had gone about organizing the reception, and so she was the one to have to break the news to her daughter and her spouse. You can imagine how that would feel.
From the ACLU press release:
“I had been so excited to help plan my only daughter’s wedding reception, so when the Wildflower Inn told me that my daughter wasn’t welcome there, it was like being kicked in the stomach,” said Peters. “Someone who didn’t even know us was telling me that my daughter wasn’t good enough to have her reception at their facility while everyone else who sees the resort’s website is welcome.”
The Vermont Fair Housing and Public Accommodations Act explicitly prohibits any public accommodations from denying goods and services based on customers’ sexual orientation. The law applies to inns, restaurants, schools, stores and any other business that serves the general public. The act contains exceptions for religious organizations and small inns with five or fewer rooms; the Wildflower Inn fits neither category. The inn is a multimillion-dollar public business whose slogan is “Four Seasons for Everyone!”
“I was completely surprised when I was told that the resort had a “no gay reception” policy,” said Baker.”We wanted to celebrate our marriage with our loved ones in a beautiful country setting, and it never crossed my mind that a resort that is open to the public would discriminate against us based on the owners’ personal feelings about LGBT people.”
Although Peters was able to find an alternate location for her daughter’s reception, the experience was jarring to the women and their family.
“The discrimination from the Wildflower Inn cast a shadow on what should have been a purely joyous occasion,” said Linsley. “We didn’t want to stay quiet and allow this business to continue to discriminate against other couples.”
As to the reason for the law suit, Joshua Block, staff attorney for the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Project, said: “The law is clear that any business that provides a service to the public can’t pick and choose who they want to serve based on the customer’s race, gender, sexual orientation, or gender identity. If we allow one group of people to be singled out and denied basic rights and service, we are violating the basic American values of justice and fairness for everyone.”
Channie Peters has also written a separate comment on the ACLU website in which she relates why she supports this legal fight, saying, “When I realized that Vermont is one of 21 states that includes sexual orientation as a protected class in its anti-discrimination laws, I felt, and feel, strongly that this case is not about my daughter’s wedding. This is about a public place breaking the law. If I go into a store and shoplift, I will be arrested. The Wildflower Inn’s owners have broken the law. It would fly in the face of this country’s commitment to the rule of law for Vermont’s anti-discrimination law not to be enforced in this case, and for these business owners not to be held to the same legal standard as every other person, If discrimination is permitted in some instances, it can happen in any instance, to anyone. Then no American can trust that there will be liberty and justice for all.”
At the time of writing the owners of The Wildflower Inn have yet to comment.