A husband and wife who own a farm in central New York are continuing to appeal a punishment enacted by the New York State Division of Human Rights after they were found guilty of "sexual orientation discrimination" and fined $13,000 for refusing to host a same-sex wedding ceremony on their property.
Attorneys for Cynthia and Robert Gifford, owners of Liberty Ridge Farm, a farm and special events venue in Schaghticoke, New York, filed an opening brief in the Gifford v. Erwin case on Thursday in an effort to defend the embattled business owners. The Giffords maintain that the monetary fine as well as a requirement that they send staff to what lawyers called "re-education training classes" violate their rights.
The Alliance Defending Freedom, the conservative legal firm that represents the Gifford family, claims that the government failed to take the couple's Christian faith into account when implementing the punishment.
Liberty Ridge Farm (Alliance Defending Freedom)
"The government demonstrated astonishing disregard for the Giffords’ First Amendment freedoms, which were never even considered,” Alliance Defending Freedom allied attorney James Trainor said in a statement. "The judge’s order forces the Giffords to host same-sex ceremonies or to host no wedding ceremonies at all."
Trainor said that this is akin to telling the couple, "Give up your faith, or give up your livelihood."
The brief accuses the New York State Division of Human Rights of mandating religious discrimination by failing to consider the Giffords' constitutional rights, and by punishing them for their refusal to violate their Christian ideals.
"[The punishment] violates the Giffords' free exercise of religion, freedom of expressive association, and freedom of expression protected under the United States and New York Constitutions," the brief reads. "The court should further order the restitution of the judgements paid by the Giffords."
As TheBlaze previously reported, the couple began the appeal process back in October 2014, taking the case to the New York Supreme Court in Rensselaer County, which has since been transferred to the New York Supreme Court Appellate Division, Third Department in Albany.
Their legal battle touched off in 2012 after the Giffords, who are Christians, told Jennifer McCarthy and Melisa Erwin, a lesbian couple from Newark, New Jersey, 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 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.
The web page where wedding details were once available has been removed
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; the state legalized gay marriage in 2011.
Trainor told TheBlaze last year that the Gifford family would no longer host any weddings on their property as a result of the legal battle.
“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 said. “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.”