A lesbian couple filed a discrimination complaint against a family-run inn because the Roman Catholic owners said they would be reluctant to plan and host a civil union ceremony.
The inn owners, identified only as Jim and Mary, are charged with violating Vermont’s Fair Housing and Public Accommodations Act.
The complaint by Susan Parker, filed with Vermont’s Human Rights Commission, is based on one phone call with Jim.
Jim said he did not refuse Parker’s request but explained that because of his beliefs about marriage, he would have difficulty putting his heart behind the project.
The inn owners, who will host seven or eight wedding receptions this year, usually are involved in the entire process of planning the event, acting as a wedding coordinator.
They run the 24-unit facility with their eight children and have their family residence on the same property.
Liberty Counsel, a Florida-based public-interest law firm representing the family, says that for one recent wedding reception, Jim spent about 40 hours with the couple prior to the wedding day.
Liberty Counsel – which filed a response to the charge, asking that it be dismissed – pointed out Jim said that if Parker still desired to hold the reception, he would be willing to meet with her to discuss possible arrangements.
The law firm argues there must be an exemption to the discrimination charge based on the free exercise of religion, free association and the right of parents to direct the upbringing of their children.
Commenting on the case, Mathew D. Staver, president and general counsel of Liberty Counsel, said it “seeks to authorize the government to become thought police.”
“This case also illustrates the radical nature of the same-sex agenda – to target a family-owned inn based upon one telephone call wherein the operator clearly admits that he could not put his heart into a same-sex civil union ceremony,” he said. “Forget tolerance – this case is about forcing others to endorse same-sex unions.”
Vermont’s Human Rights Commission only has legal authority to investigate complaints, negotiate settlements and bring action in court. If illegal discrimination is proven to a judge and jury, the court can impose fines or monetary damages.
In 1994, the Vermont Supreme Court ruled that a Roman Catholic owner of a printing company could assert, as a defense to a claim of discrimination, that printing “pro-choice” flyers would cause the owner to violate his sincerely held religious beliefs.