(CNSNews.com) – A couple who hosts occasional wedding ceremonies on their New York farm have lost an appeal to overturn the $13,000 in fines levied against them by the state’s human rights agency, which ruled that their refusal to host a wedding for two women was discriminatory.
On Jan. 14, the New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division, Third Department, upheld the agency’s order and the fines, a decision the Alliance Defending Freedom - which represented Robert and Cynthia Gifford - said amounted to confirming, “that the government can punish the Giffords for declining to coordinate a ceremony that conflicts with their conscience.”
The couple lives in a barn they built on their farm and have occasionally hosted weddings on the first floor and the surrounding backyard area, according to ADF.
“After the agency ruled that the Giffords were guilty of ‘sexual orientation discrimination,’ it fined them $10,000, plus $3,000 in damages and ordered them to implement re-education training classes designed to contradict the couple’s religious beliefs about marriage,” a press release issued following the court decision stated.
In order to comply with the order, the couple will have to attend those “re-training” classes or have a “trainer” come to them, according to ADF.
“All Americans should be free to live and work according to their beliefs, especially in our own backyards,” ADF legal counsel Caleb Dalton, who argued before the court on behalf of the couple in Gifford v. Erwin, said in a statement. “The government went after both this couple’s freedom and their ability to make a living simply for adhering to their faith on their own property.
“The court should have rejected this unwarranted and unconstitutional government intrusion, so we will consult with our client regarding appeal,” Dalton said.
ADF attorneys argued that the First Amendment prohibits the government from forcing a wedding coordinator like Cynthia to plan and participate in a ceremony that violates her faith.
“The appeals court decision, however, sidestepped that argument and is allowing the government coercion to continue,” the ADF press release stated.
ADF explained the background of the case: “On Sept. 25, 2012, Melisa McCarthy called Cynthia Gifford, inquiring about the use of the farm for her upcoming same-sex ceremony. Because of her Christian faith’s teachings on marriage, Cynthia politely told McCarthy that she and her husband don’t host and coordinate same-sex ceremonies but left open an invitation to visit the farm to consider it as a potential reception site. Instead, McCarthy and her partner filed a complaint with the Division of Human Rights.”