Some good news out of Vermont today.
First, the back story. Kate Baker and Ming-Lein Linsley, a lesbian couple, were turned away last year by the Wildflower Inn in Lyndonville, Vermont, when they approached the business about hosting their wedding reception. The couple worked with the Vermont Convention Bureau, which recommended the Wildflower Inn for the festivities. Then, when it was clarified that the wedding was for two brides and not a bride and a groom, a staffer e-mailed the couple with the subject line "I have bad news" and the following message:
...due to [the Inkeepers'] personal feelings, they do not host gay receptions at our facility.Baker and Linsley sued, and rightfully so. This discrimination was a blatant violation of Vermont's Fair Housing and Public Accommodations Act, which very clearly bars discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. The noncompliance with state law couldn't be any clearer. The couple was represented by Vermont's chapter of the ACLU (and, later, the Vermont Human Rights Commission joined the lawsuit) and sued for $1, plus legal fees--and an admission that the incident was in violation of state law.
Well, the Linsleys (Kate changed her last name after the marriage) won today. Finally, the Wildflower Inn admitted what they did was in violation of state law and agreed to pay fines and legal fees to the tune of $30,000. Pretty expensive act of discrimination that could have easily been avoided had they not let hate get in the way of doing business and treating customers with dignity and respect.
But the settlement is more significant than that. From VT Digger:
According to the settlement, the Wildflower Inn was acting in good faith and in compliance with a 2005 decision by the Vermont Human Rights Commission that said that while no public establishment may refuse to serve a customer based on sexual orientation, the inn could advise potential customers of the owners’ Catholic beliefs.According to the Vermont chapter of the ACLU, what this settlement does is assert that the 2005 decision is no longer valid. It makes crystal-clear that businesses cannot discourage customers. According to Dan Barrett, an ACLU-Vermont attorney:
Based on that decision, the Wildflower Inn’s stated policy was to ignore all calls and emails from same-sex couples hoping to host a wedding or reception at the inn. If confronted, their policy was to advise the couple that the owners did not believe in same-sex marriage, but would host the reception if they really wanted to.
“My understanding is that their policy was if a gay couple called or emailed that they just wouldn’t return their calls or their emails, or if for instance someone showed up … then they would have a conversation and say ‘this goes against our religious beliefs and we can’t put our hearts into it and we don’t support it,’” Kate Linsley (she changed her name when the couple married) said in an interview.
What this settlement makes clear is that you can’t discourage and get away with it. Discouragement or any unequal treatment of LGBT customers is [legally] the same as an outright refusal.Predictably, the anti-gay Alliance Defending Freedom (formerly the Alliance Defense Fund) is ever so pissed. Says ADF Senior Counsel Byron Babione:
Every American should be free to live and do business consistent with their deeply held beliefs. It is unfortunate when a state agency teams up with the ACLU to harass and punish a private family business over its owners’ constitutionally protected thoughts and beliefs. Legal attacks like this one are not pursuits for justice, but attempts to coerce and police private expression.Nope, sorry asshole, you lost.
$10,000 of the settlement will go to the Vermont Human Rights Commission as a civil penalty. The other $20,000 will go into a charitable fund for the Linsleys. Some of that money will pay legal fees, but they plan to donate the largest chunk of it to the Trevor Project.
Hopefully this will be a warning to any other businesses in Vermont (of which I'm sure there are few) that are thinking about discriminating against LGBT people. It's not going to work out well for you.