Catholic-run inn pays $30,000 to settle lesbian couple's suit

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A Vermont bed and breakfast run by a Catholic family has agreed to a $30,000 settlement in a lawsuit that the family says rested on the false claim that the inn does not host same-sex “wedding” receptions.

“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,” owner Jim O’Reilly said Aug. 23.

“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.”

Before the lawsuit, the Wildflower Inn of Lyndonville, Vermont followed a policy of accommodating every potential customer in accordance with the law. It also disclosed its owners' religious convictions. The religious liberty group Alliance Defending Freedom, which defended the inn, said the Vermont Human Rights Commission approved this practice in 2005.

The Alliance Defending Freedom said a former inn employee sparked the lawsuit when she falsely claimed that the inn would not allow a same-sex reception. She offered potential clients services through her own business.

Kate and Ming Linsley, a same-sex couple from New York, contacted the Vermont Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union after the inn’s event manager told Ming Linsley’s mother that the inn did not host “gay receptions” because of the owner’s “personal feelings,” the ACLU chapter says.

The ACLU says the inn failed to respond to inquiries from same-sex couples  or discouraged them from using the inn’s services.

The inn’s owners decided to settle the lawsuit and stop hosting weddings and receptions.

“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,” O’Reilly said.

Jim O’Reilly and his wife Mary run the inn in partnership with Mary’s parents. The O’Reillys have eight children.

Under the settlement, the Wildflower Inn must pay $10,000 to the Vermont Human Rights Commission as a penalty for violating the state’s fair housing and public accommodations act. It must also pay $20,000 into a charitable trust the plaintiffs have set up.

Kate Linsley said the couple did not bring the lawsuit “in order to punish the Wildflower Inn or to collect money.”

“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.”

Alliance Defending Freedom senior counsel Bryon Babione was critical of the suit.

“It is unfortunate when a state agency teams up with the ACLU to harass and punish a private family business over its owners’ constitutionally protected thoughts and beliefs,” Babione said Aug. 23. “Legal attacks like this one are not pursuits for justice, but attempts to coerce and police private expression.”

Anti-discrimination laws and policies have increasingly affected Catholics and others with moral objections to homosexual relationships.

Some Catholic adoption agencies have closed or have lost vital state funding because state laws and policies consider them discriminatory for placing children only with opposite-sex married couples.

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