The owners of a family farm who are being fined $13,000 for refusing to host a gay wedding ceremony are taking action in an effort to overturn the state's ruling against them.
An attorney for the Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative legal firm, filed a petition in New York State court Thursday on behalf of Cynthia and Robert Gifford, owners of Liberty Ridge Farm, a farm and special events venue in Schaghticoke, New York.
The petition asks that the "sexual orientation discrimination" ruling given by the New York State Division of Human Rights in August be reexamined.
The legal battle touched off after the Giffords, who are Christians, told Jennifer McCarthy and Melisa Erwin, a lesbian couple from Newark, New Jersey, back in 2012 that they were welcome to hold their reception on the property, but not the actual wedding ceremony, according to Religion News Service.
As TheBlaze previously reported, The Giffords, who oppose same-sex marriage based on their religious convictions, live on the premises. Weddings are typically conducted on the first floor of their home or on the nearby property.
McCarthy and Erwin, angry over the rejection, took their grievances — and audio from their conversation with the farm owners that was reportedly secretly recorded — to New York’s Division of Human Rights, claiming that they were discriminated against as a result of their sexual orientation.
A judge agreed and the farm owners were fined $10,000 plus an additional $3,000 in damages for violating anti-discrimination regulations under New York’s Human Rights Law.
Additionally, the Alliance Defending Freedom claims that the Giffords have been ordered to train their staff in the state's viewpoint on same-sex nuptials; New York legalized gay marriage in 2011.
The conservative legal firm's appeal argues in Gifford v. New York State Division of Human Rights that the state "did not consider Robert and Cynthia’s constitutional freedoms and religious beliefs," according to a press release.
"While the Giffords have asserted their constitutional religious protections as a defense to the discrimination allegations from the beginning, neither the Division, the Administrative Law Judge (the ‘ALJ’) or the Commissioner herself even mentioned those fundamental rights before compelling the family to either host and ‘celebrate’ same-sex wedding ceremonies in their own home, or go out of the wedding ceremony business altogether," reads the appeal filed in court.
Attorneys for the Giffords argue that the family should be free to live according to their religious beliefs and that operating in the marketplace does not give the government the right to force an individual to give up his or her First Amendment rights.
"The commission demonstrated stunning disregard for the Giffords’ First Amendment rights, which were never considered at the hearing," James Trainor, an allied attorney with Alliance Defending Freedom, said in a statement. "The commissioner’s order in essence gives an ultimatum: host same-sex marriage ceremonies or none at all."
McCarthy spoke out about the fine waged against the Giffords back in August, saying that the family had no right to discriminate against her and that she's hopeful the incident helps protect others' rights.
A screen shot from the Liberty Ridge website
“No one should have the happiest time of their life marred by discrimination,” McCarthy, who was represented alongside her wife by the New York Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement, according to the New York Law Journal. “We hope this decision will protect all New Yorkers from having to go through the hurt that we experienced.”
As TheBlaze previously reported, the Gifford family — as a result of the legal battle — has decided to no longer host any wedding ceremonies on their property.
“Going forward, [Cynthia and Robert Gifford] have decided to no longer host any wedding ceremonies on their property (other than the ones already under contract),” Trainor told TheBlaze. "Since the order essentially compelled them to do all ceremonies or none at all, they have chosen the latter in order to stay true to their religious convictions, even though it will likely hurt their business in the short run."