New York wedding site banned same-sex couple

Gay rights

Two upstate New York women turned away from a potential wedding site because they are gay have filed a discrimination complaint, setting up a possible precedent-setting battle involving the state's new same-sex marriage law.

The complaint filed with the state Division of Human Rights appears to be a first involving a wedding venue since same-sex marriage became legal in New York in July 2011, according to advocates on both sides of the issue. One prominent gay marriage opponent said the case could test the breadth of the law's religious freedom language.

Melisa Erwin and Jennie McCarthy, of Albany, filed the complaint Oct. 11 after the nearby Liberty Ridge Farm said it would not host their wedding next summer. McCarthy said when the owners, Robert and Cynthia Gifford, found out they were a same-sex couple, the women were told there was a problem.

The couple is no longer considering the farm as a wedding venue, but McCarthy said, "We just want to know that the policy is being changed to fit the laws so this doesn't happen to anyone else.''

The Giffords have objections to gay marriage based on their values and religious background, their spokesman said Monday.

"They still have children at home and they feel that their rights are being violated and they're being discriminated against because of their position on the issue of gay marriage,'' said Jason McGuire, executive director of New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, a group opposed to gay marriage.

New York law exempts some religious-oriented institutions from having to accommodate same-sex weddings.

But Lambda Legal senior counsel Susan Sommer said it's well established that a business that serves the public is in violation of New York's human rights law if it discriminates on the basis of sexual orientation.

"If it opens its venue for weddings by the general public, it can't then shut its doors on a same-sex couple,'' Sommer said.

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