Vermont ACLU sues inn over discrimination against gay couple

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Vermont ACLU sues inn over discrimination against gay couple

Tue, 07/19/2011 - 9:01am -- tim

The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Vermont has sued a Vermont resort that refused to host a lesbian couple’s wedding reception due to the owners’ personal bias against lesbian and gay people. Vermont law prohibits denying access to public accommodations based on sexual orientation. 
According to a statement from the ACLU, Kate Baker and Ming Linsley of New York wished to hold their wedding ceremony at a Buddhist retreat in Vermont and have their reception at a nearby inn. Linsley’s mother, Channie Peters, contacted the Vermont Convention Bureau to locate a facility and received information on the Wildflower Inn in Lyndonville. The 24-room inn described itself as an award-winning resort and an ideal destination-wedding location. Baker and Linsley were excited about holding the reception there, but when the events manager learned that the reception was for a lesbian couple, Peters was told that due to the innkeepers’ ‘personal feelings,’ the inn does not host ‘gay receptions.’
‘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 web site 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!’
Vermont Tourism and Marketing Commissioner Megan Smith issued the following statement regarding the ACLU’s action: 
‘I don’t know the details of this case, but I do know that Vermont businesses in the tourism industry welcome LGBT travelers with open arms. Vermont was the first state to establish civil unions and the first to legalize same-sex marriage without a court order, and we are deeply proud of these historic milestones.
"As a Justice of the Peace, I have conducted many same-sex weddings since the law took effect in Vermont. LGBT tourism is an important part of Vermont’s economy, and we are working more than ever to promote our state to LGBT travelers.
"Within weeks of Governor Shumlin taking office in January, he made marketing to LGBT travelers a priority for his administration. Last April, the Vermont Department of Tourism and Marketing sponsored and attended a reception at the GLBT Travel Expo in New York with our local marketing partners.
"In addition, the Vermont Department of Tourism and Marketing will sponsor in September the first Northern Decadence diversity and culinary festival in Burlington in partnership with the Vermont Gay Tourism Association. We are looking forward to attracting new visitors to Vermont through this new event and through other LGBT initiatives in the future.’
Peters was able to find an alternate location for her daughter’s reception.
‘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.’
‘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.’
‘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,’ said Joshua Block, staff attorney for the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Project. ‘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.’
 
More information on this case, including a video of the plaintiffs. 
Source: ACLU of Vermont. July 19, 2011