LYNDONVILLE – Two New York women and a Vermont country inn have settled a lawsuit that accused the business of refusing to host the couple's wedding reception.
Both sides are claiming a victory.
The American Civil Liberties Union says The Wildflower Inn in Lyndonville agreed to pay a $10,000 civil penalty to the Vermont Human Rights Commission and place $20,000 in a charitable trust.
Kate and Ming Linsley contacted the ACLU after Ming's mother was told last year by the Wildflower Inn's events manager that the inn didn't host "gay receptions" due to the innkeepers' "personal feelings."
An attorney for the inn said a former employee falsely claimed the inn would not allow a same-sex reception and then offered the potential clients event services through her personal business.
The inn’s actual business practice, which the Vermont Human Rights Commission approved in 2005, was to honestly disclose its owners’ religious convictions to potential customers while agreeing to serve everyone in accordance with the law.
The family business has relied for many years on a 2005 commission finding that there were “no reasonable grounds to believe that Wildflower… illegally discriminated” in its practices or policies. That decision came after a woman who asked to have a same-sex ceremony at the inn complained to the commission because the owner, while stating that the inn would host her event, shared with her that he was a Roman Catholic who accepted biblical teaching about marriage as only the union of one man and one woman.
“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,” said Wildflower Inn owner Jim O’Reilly. “Our beliefs haven’t changed, but we do have lives to live, a family to love, a business to grow, and a community to serve. Small businesses like ours cannot match the limitless resources of the government and the ACLU. Ongoing litigation like this can cripple any small business and the livelihood of its owners, so we’re relieved to put this ordeal behind us.”
The inn stopped holding weddings and receptions months before the lawsuit was filed and, as part of the settlement, agreed to no longer host wedding receptions.
The women say they will use the money for legal costs and donate the rest to charity.