ACLU Sues ‘Family-Friendly’ Inn for Refusing to Host Lesbian Wedding Reception

July 21, 2011 - 11:02 AM

Wildflower Inn

The Wildflower Inn in Lyndonville, Vermont. (Photo from Inn's Facebook Page)

(CNSNews.com) - The American Civil Liberties Union is suing a small, family-owned Vermont inn for allegedly refusing to host a lesbian couple’s wedding reception.

The Wildflower Inn is owned by a "devout, practicing Catholic family who believes in the sanctity of marriage between one man and one woman," its Facebook page says. "We have never refused rooms or dining or employment to gays and lesbians."

The ACLU says the Vermont Human Rights Law prohibits public accommodation -- hotels and small inns included -- from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation. And that is the crux of the ACLU’s lawsuit:

"This case is about discrimination, pure and simple," the ACLU says in a posting on its Web site. "When a business that is open to the public refuses to serve two people and their guests solely because the two people are a same sex couple, it is no different than restaurants not serving individuals because they were black, or other businesses keeping out women or Jews. It is discrimination and it is illegal."

The lesbian couple, Kate Baker and Ming Linsley, plan to marry in Vermont -- one of six states where homosexual marriage is legal -- this fall. Last October, Ming's mother, Channie Peters, said she contacted the Vermont Convention Bureau, looking for a place to host the reception.  The Wildflower Inn in Lydonville, Vermont, was on the list.

According to the ACLU, "On November 5, Channie spoke by telephone with a representative of the Wildflower Inn to discuss details about planning the reception. During the conversation, the Wildflower Inn employee made a reference to 'the bride and groom,' and Channie clarified that the reception would involve two brides."

Shortly after getting off the phone, Channie says she received an email from an employee at the inn, telling her in part, "After our conversation, I checked in with my Innkeepers and unfortunately due to their personal feelings, they do not host gay receptions at our facility.”

On Tuesday, the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Vermont filed a complaint in Vermont Superior Court asking the court to declare that the Wildflower Inn’s no-gay-receptions policy is illegal and to issue an injunction prohibiting the Wildflower Inn’s owners from continuing to enforce their discriminatory policy.

The Wildflower Inn's Web page notes that there are many things that make it "different" from others: "The fact that we have 8 children of our own, and knew the need to create a family friendly inn when we bought the property, was just the start to making us different in the hospitality business," said the inn’s owners, Jim and Mary O’Reilly.

“We take pride in sharing the beautiful Wildflower Inn as a home for all of our guests who visit us, be them little or not, or one of God's creatures (we have recently gone Dog Friendly)."

Messages of support

The ACLU Web site invites readers to send a "message of support" to Kate and Ming. "Reject discrimination, Support Equality," the "support" page says.

As part of sending a message to the lesbians, the ACLU also collects email addresses, which can be used to distribute future “action alerts.”

The Wildflower Inn does not issue action alerts, but its Facebook page has received a number of comments from supporters – including one who predicted that the ACLU lawsuit would bring the inn more business – “as so many of us are fed up with the ‘politically correct’ special interest crowd stomping our OUR rights.”

In a similar vein, another supporter wrote, “The Wildflowers business will INCREASE due to this event. There are thousands and thousands of people who are the silent majority, and we are sick and tired of living in this media driven PC world.”