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.
Press conference at Statehouse
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. 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.”
Engaged couple Ming Linsley (left) and Kate Baker with Linsley's mother Channie Peters
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.”
“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.