Cynthia and Robert Gifford are caught in a same-sex nightmare. They’ve been forced to defend themselves against claims that they’re lesbian-hating homophobes.
“We respect and care for everyone!’’ Cynthia Gifford told me. “We had an openly gay man working for us this past season,’’ she said.
“We’ve had a woman who’s transitioning to be a man. We don’t discriminate against anyone.’’
But the government of the state of New York sees things differently. The Giffords, who own the bucolic Liberty Ridge Farm in upstate New York, were ordered to pay a total of $13,000 — a $10,000 fine to the state and another $1,500 to each member of a lesbian couple to compensate them for “mental anguish.’’ All because the Giffords, devout Christians, refused to hold a same-sex wedding ceremony on the property on which they live, work and have raised a daughter, 17, and a son, 21.
“This is scary,’’ Cynthia Gifford said. “It’s scary for all Americans.” Fifteen years ago, Cynthia, 54, and Robert Gifford, 55, opened to the public their farm in upstate Schaghticoke, near Albany, where they’ve lived for 25 years. They host an annual, family-friendly fall festival, which ends Tuesday, offering such countrified fare as a corn maze and pig-racing shows.
In summer, wedding ceremonies and receptions also are held on the farm. But once already-booked nuptials take place, the Giffords will no longer schedule new ceremonies. Only receptions — including same-sex ones — will go on. What happened?
Cynthia Gifford took a life-changing two- to three-minute phone call in 2012 from a woman she’d never met, Melisa Erwin, who was looking for a place to hold her wedding. A wedding — to another woman.
Gifford said she told her, politely, that she would not book a same-sex wedding ceremony at the farm.
She didn’t know it at the time, but the woman’s then-fianceé, Jennifer McCarthy, recorded the conversation. The pair then filed a formal complaint with the state Division of Human Rights. And this past August, an administrative law judge from The Bronx, Migdalia Pares, decreed that the farm was a “public accommodation’’ and ordered the penalties, after ruling that the Giffords had violated state law by discriminating against the two women.
Incredible. The women, now both 31, currently live in upstate New York. They found another venue at which to get married, and each woman now uses the surname McCarthy. They declined my request for an interview.
“They were devastated when they heard that Liberty Ridge Farm would not take their business because of who they are,’’ the ladies’ lawyer, Mariko Hirose of the New York Civil Liberties Union, told me.
“NYCLU supports religious freedom,’’ she said. “That still doesn’t make it OK for businesses to break existing law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, race, sex, disability, religion or other protected categories.’’
“We’ve gone from tolerance to compulsion,’’ the Giffords’ lawyer, James Trainor, told me. “State government should not be forcing people to violate their own religious beliefs, nor should they be forced to make a choice between making a living and violating their own faith.’’ Financial losses have forced the Giffords to let go a full-time event planner.
“I think there is an effort under way to change the social order,’’ said Trainor. “One way is by redefining marriage.’’
Trainor is allied with Alliance Defending Freedom, an organization that seeks justice for people of faith. Last month, he filed an appeal with the state Appellate Division on behalf of the Giffords, seeking to get their money returned — and setting the stage for New York state’s first legal battle pitting one couple’s constitutional right to religious freedom against another couple’s right to get married wherever they please.
Readers know that I’ve come to support same-sex marriage. But I can’t understand why clergymen and -women are free in New York to opt out of joining in marriage homosexual couples, but the law gives not a lick of respect to non-ordained people of faith.
In 2011, days before New York state’s Marriage Equality Act legalized same-sex marriage statewide, I wrote about two New York state Refuseniks — town clerks who refused to unite Jills and Janes and Adams and Steves. One woman quit her job, another quit performing all weddings, due to their religiously held beliefs that marriage is the union of one man and one woman.
- In Oregon, Christian bakers who refused to sell a wedding cake to two lesbians face hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines.
- In Washington state, an elderly Christian florist could face hefty fines after she refused to provide wedding flowers to two gay men.
- A Christian Colorado baker is appealing a judge’s decision ordering him to start baking wedding cakes for homosexuals and to provide his staff with sensitivity training, after he refused to create a wedding cake for two gay guys.
- The US Supreme Court this year declined to hear the case of a Christian photographer from New Mexico who claimed that refusing to shoot the commitment ceremony of two lesbians was an expression not only of her constitutional right to religious freedom, it was protected by her First Amendment right to free speech. New Mexico’s Supreme Court and the state’s Human Rights Commission have decreed that her refusal to shoot equaled unlawful discrimination.
Robert and Cynthia Gifford are decent people being punished for acting on their faith. This kind of government bigotry should appeal to no one, whether he or she (or one of no gender) identifies as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, androgynous . . . or even straight.
WRTODAY: We stand with LibertyRidgeFarm in ny (and the Hitching post in Idaho) !!! NYS Government to Farmers: Host Same-Sex Wedding or Pay a $13,000 Fine, have your rights violated, be oppressed, forced against your values, and reverse discriminated against!!!
Should the government be able to coerce a family farm into hosting a same-sex wedding?
In a free society, the answer is no. Family farms should be free to operate in accordance with the beliefs and values of their owners. Government shouldn’t be able to fine citizens for acting in the market according to their own—rather than the government’s—values, unless there is a compelling government interest being pursued in the least restrictive way possible.
But the New York State Division of Human Rights doesn’t see things this way. On August 8, it fined Cynthia and Robert Gifford $13,000 for acting on their belief that marriage is the union of a man and woman and thus declining to rent out their family farm for a same-sex wedding celebration. The Human Rights Commission ruled that “the nature and circumstances of the [Giffords’] violation of the Human Rights Law also warrants a penalty.”
This is coercive big government run amok.
Here’s the back story. In 2012, Melisa Erwin and Jennifer McCarthy contacted the Giffords to rent the family’s barn for their same-sex wedding ceremony and reception. Cynthia Gifford responded that she and her husband would have to decline their request as they felt they could not in good conscience host a same-sex wedding ceremony at their home. The Giffords live on the second and third floor of the barn and, when they host weddings on the first floor, they open part of the second floor as a bridal suite.The Giffords have owned and operated Liberty Ridge Farm in Schaghticoke, New York for over 25 years. Like many small farm families, they often open the farm to the public for events like berry picking, fall festivals, and pig racing.
Should the government be in the business of “re-educating” its citizens to change their moral beliefs?
They also open their home for weddings and receptions. When the Giffords host weddings, they are involved in every aspect of the wedding planning and celebration: they greet and drive guests in their farm trolley, decorate the barn, set up floral arrangements, arrange fireworks displays, and provide catering. As the Human Rights Commission ruling even points out, “the only wedding-related service Liberty Ridge Farm does not offer is providing the official for the wedding ceremony.”
As many brides know, planning a wedding requires hours of careful work to organize in order to pull off the celebration—hours during which family businesses operating venues like the Giffords’ actively participate in the weddings they host. The Giffords believe that as free citizens running a business, they should have the right to decline to participate in an event that does not reflect their values.
Unfortunately, New York’s Human Right’s law (Executive Law, art. 15) creates special privileges based on sexual orientation that trump the rights of business owners. Because the Giffords’ family farm is open to the public for business, New York classifies it as a “public accommodation” and then mandates that it not “discriminate” on the basis of sexual orientation.
Of course the Giffords were not engaging in any insidious discrimination—they were acting on their belief about the nature of marriage. They do not object to gay or lesbian customers attending the fall festivals, or going berry picking, or doing any of the other activities that the farm facilitates. The Giffords’ only objection is to being forced to abide by the government’s views on sexuality and host a same-sex wedding. The Human Rights Commission has now declared this historic belief about marriage to be “discrimination.”
The Giffords must pay a $1,500 mental anguish fine to each of the women and pay $10,000 in civil damages penalty to New York State. If they can’t pay in 60 days, a nine percent interest rate will be added to that total. Like Jack Phillips of Masterpiece Cakeshop, the Giffords must also institute anti-discrimination re-education classes and procedures for their staff.
The question before all citizens is whether this law and this fine are just. Should the government be able to force family businesses to betray their consciences and participate in ceremonies that violate their beliefs? Should the government be in the business of “rehabilitating” consciences or “re-educating” its citizens to change their moral beliefs about the definition of marriage?
Government should not create special legal privileges based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Instead, government should protect the rights of Americans and the associations they form to act in the public square in accordance with their beliefs. The Giffords’ case illustrates the growing conflict between religious liberty rights and laws that grant special privileges based on sexual orientation and gender identity. In a nation founded on limited government and religious freedom, government should not attempt to coerce any citizen, association, or business into celebrating same-sex relationships.
…“People should not have to violate their religious and moral convictions—especially in their own homes—as the price of doing business. People of faith should not be forced to participate in a same-sex ‘wedding’ when it violates their beliefs.”
McGuire noted that when same-sex “marriage” was legalized in New York in 2011, Christians and others were assured that they were protected under a religious freedom amendment, but now he finds that amendment useless.
“When the bill was passed, we were promised that the religious freedom amendment to New York’s same-sex ‘marriage’ legislation would do the job. We were told it would be the strongest in the nation. Our legislators bought the lie and today every New Yorker is living the lie. Town clerks, justices and businesses are impacted by the Empire State’s religious freedom farce,” he stated. “There is no protection in New York law that did not already exist prior to the bill’s passage. But after gay ‘marriage’ was enacted, clerks are out of work and business owners are facing human rights complaints. That’s the reality we are living today.”…
The Giffords are considering their legal options, Trainor said.
“Liberty Ridge Farm … has employed gay people and has conducted events for same-sex couples,” Trainor told RNS. “The Giffords’ objection was to hosting and participating in the wedding ceremony itself and not to providing service in general to lesbians.”
While the Liberty Farms case represents the most recent legal challenge to private businesses that provide wedding services but refuse to provide them to same-sex couples, it is unique because public accommodation laws usually don’t apply to private residences, said Adam Winkler, a law professor at the University of California-Los Angeles.
“It is just another case in the many battles in the fight over public accommodation of same-sex marriages,” Winkler told RNS. “If you want to open yourself up to the public, there’s a cost, which is that you can’t discriminate.”
McCarthy and her wife brought a complaint in conjunction with the New York Civil Liberties Union, saying Liberty Ridge Farm was a public accommodation and the Giffords’ actions were unlawfully discriminatory under state law.
While the McCarthys never entered into a rental contract for the facility, an administrative law judge ruled Gifford “implicitly rescinded the invitation” when she learned Melisa McCarthy’s spouse-to-be was also a woman.
“The policy to not allow same-sex marriage ceremonies on Liberty Ridge Farm is a denial of access to a place of public accommodation,” Judge Migdalia Pares wrote. She said the Giffords should pay $3,000 to the women—$1,500 each—for “mental anguish each suffered as a result of respondents’ unlawfully discriminatory conduct.” Citing “the goal of deterrence” as well as the Giffords’ clear stance against same-sex weddings, Pares fined the Giffords an additional $10,000.
Pares’ order was adopted formally last week by Human Rights commissioner Helen Diane Foster.
Same-sex marriage was legalized in 2011, after a push from Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo. Many Republicans and conservatives oppose the law, arguing it infringes on private businesses. Democrats have always responded to these charges by noting existing laws for any public accommodation prevent discrimination against interracial couples, say, or couples of different religions.
The Giffords’ lawyer, James Trainor, said the couple is “evaluating” a possible appeal, and said he was surprised the ruling to did not incorporate the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent Hobby Lobby decision, in which justices said a closely-held company could deny some forms of contraception to its employees because they conflicted with the religious beliefs of its owners.
“We’re disappointed that neither the judge nor the commissioner even mentioned the Gifford’s … First Amendment rights, including the right not to be compelled to participate in a religious ceremony which violates their own religious beliefs,” Trainor wrote in an email. He said the monetary penalty is a “significant burden” to the family that is “disproportionate to the single interaction between the parties – a telephone call of several minutes duration.”
NYCLU executive director Donna Lieberman hailed the decision.
“Marriage should be a time of celebration, not discrimination,” said NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman. “This ruling sets an important precedent protecting the rights of LGBT New Yorkers, and will help ensure that businesses understand New York law and treat all patrons with the dignity and respect they deserve.”
Here is the full decision: http://bit.ly/1mNyGOf
What if you hold deep religious views that certain races are not worthy, in the eyes of YOUR God, and you don’t have to serve them?
So in other words, you think the government has the right to hold a gun to a Christian’s head and shout “OBEY!”
Sounds like what you’d think.
Authorities in Coeur d’Alene Idaho have buckled under the pressureof nationwide outrage at their threat to jail two ordained ministers for not performing gay marriage in their wedding chapel and declared the “Hitching Post” wedding chapel exempt from their “non-dsicrimination” law.
Perform same-sex wedding ceremonies or pay tens of thousands of dollars in fines and spend months behind bars. That’s the choice their Idaho town gave one Christian couple who have made marriage ministry their life’s work.
Donald and Eyelyn Knapp, ordained ministers, are married to each other. Together, they have run Hitching Post Wedding Chapel in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, since Ronald Reagan’s last year as president.
“The Apostle Paul spent quite a bit of time in jail for his faith, so who am I to feel like I have any right to avoid the same thing?” Don Knapp says during the couple’s exclusive interview with The Daily Signal.
“We can’t go against the teachings of the Bible and break our ordination vows,” Evelyn “Lynn” Knapp adds.
The test of faith began for Don, 68, and Lynn, 66, after the courts overrode Idaho’s voter-approved constitutional amendment affirming marriage as the union of one man and one woman. Citing a “non-discrimination” ordinance, officials of Coeur d’Alene told the Knapps that they would be required to hold same-sex weddings at their chapel.
Earlier this month, the Knapps respectfully declined to hold a same-sex wedding in their small, lakeside chapel in the city of about 46,000. They face up to 180 days in jail and $1,000 in fines for each day they decline to celebrate that wedding.
On Oct. 17, the couple’s attorneys from Alliance Defending Freedom filed a federal lawsuit and a motion for a temporary restraining order to stop the city from forcing the Knapps to violate their religious beliefs.
Now, in an exclusive interview with The Daily Signal via email, Don and Lynn Knapp speak out for the first time about why they decided to stand up to the law. The following Q&A was edited for length and clarity.
The Daily Signal: How did you meet and come to run Hitching Post Wedding Chapel?
Don: We both went to Bible college in our early 20s and both became ordained ministers. We have been married for 47 years and have been Christians for even longer. We have been serving couples at the Hitching Post Wedding Chapel for 25 years, and served at several churches for 13 years before that.
Lynn: We always felt called into full-time ministry; we thought we might be missionaries. The Lord specifically called us into wedding ministry. We love meeting the couples that walk through our doors. Our strengths and weaknesses complement each other. It’s been an adventure, to say the least.
The Daily Signal: Why are you opposed to holding same-sex wedding ceremonies?
Don: As Christians and ordained ministers we follow the teachings of the Bible, which makes clear that marriage is between a man and a woman. Our wedding ceremonies follow the traditional Christian format.
Each ceremony we perform includes an exchange of vows, a short sermon based on the Bible and teachings of Jesus, and prayer over the couple. We also give each couple a CD with two sermons about marriage and recommend biblically based marriage literature.
Lynn: We view what we do as a ministry, and hope and pray that each couple we serve will come to believe in Jesus Christ and base their marriage on biblical principles.
We try to create a service that honors God and that conveys God’s intention for marriage. We try to communicate that God loves marriage and people should follow God’s guidance about marriage
The Daily Signal: Is this the first time you declined to host a wedding — for any reason?
Don: In trying to remember back through 25 years of service, we were able to recall at least two specific instances where we declined to perform a one-man, one-woman wedding ceremony: a nudist wedding and a wedding at a cemetery during Halloween.
But one-man, one-woman ceremonies rarely conflict with our religious convictions because we are in control of the content of the ceremonies and ensure that they are consistent with our religious beliefs. There is no way a same-sex wedding ceremony can be consistent … because our sincerely held religious belief is that marriage is between a man and a woman.
The Daily Signal: Do you agree with Coeur d’Alene officials and your critics that by declining to host same-sex wedding ceremonies you are “discriminating” against these couples?
Don: Of course we don’t agree with that. As ministers of the Gospel, we love all people. It is the core of who we are and what we are about. That’s not what’s at issue here, though. We run a marriage ministry and have felt called by God to do so for many years. The Bible is clear that marriage is a one-man, one-woman union. We pledged to uphold marriage in our ordination vows.
For the government to force us to reject that teaching and celebrate a ceremony that is forbidden by the teachings of our faith not only undermines the very ministry we have built our lives upon, but also violates our duty to God as his ministers and what He has entrusted us to do.
>>> Commentary: Protecting Religious Liberty in the State Marriage Debate
The Daily Signal: Is that why you decided to fight city officials and file a federal lawsuit?
Don: The city of Coeur d’Alene made it clear at least three times this past year — both publicly and twice privately to me — that we would be breaking the law if we declined to conduct a same-sex ceremony. I was told we could face criminal prosecution, with a jail sentence of up to six months and/or a fine of up to $1,000 each time and each day we declined to perform a same-sex wedding ceremony.
On Friday, Oct. 17, around noon, a same-sex couple contacted us and inquired about us doing a ceremony. We respectfully declined because of our religious beliefs. Our attorneys with Alliance Defending Freedom filed the lawsuit against the city Friday afternoon. On Friday evening, we received another request about a same-sex ceremony.
If someone was told by the government that he or she would be prosecuted and face up to six months in jail and up to $1,000 in fines for exercising their First Amendment rights, they would not wait around to see if the government made good on that threat. They would file a lawsuit to protect their freedom and avoid jail and fines. And that’s what we did here.
The Daily Signal: Some critics allege that you edited your website so that Alliance Defending Freedom can turn you into “the latest victims of the marriage equality push.” Is this true?
Don: Our website change is irrelevant to the case. We have always only performed one-man, one-woman ceremonies. When Idaho redefined marriage to be something other than that last week, we updated our website to merely state what we have always done in light of the state’s change in position.
Our wedding ceremonies continue to be one-man, one-woman ceremonies like they always have been, and will continue to reflect our Christian faith and biblical principles.
The Daily Signal: What does the prospect of months in jail and paying thousands of dollars in fines mean to your family and business?
Don: Well, I don’t think anyone looks forward to the possibility of going to jail. That being said, though, people of faith throughout the centuries have faced jail or punishment for following the teachings of their faith. The Apostle Paul spent quite a bit of time in jail for his faith, so who am I to feel like I have any right to avoid the same thing?
Lynn: It’s heartbreaking. We love the Hitching Post and the people that walk through our doors on a daily basis. It’s our life, our ministry, our calling. From a financial perspective, even though it’s a small income, it’s what we live on. I really like to be able to do little things for my grandchildren, and I’m dreading the thought of not being able to do that anymore. But we can’t go against the teachings of the Bible and break our ordination vows.
The Daily Signal: How have people responded to your story?
Lynn: We have received an outpouring of support both around this country and internationally. I think people realize that if the government can force pastors to perform religious ceremonies that violate their faith’s teachings — or throw them in jail if they don’t — no American’s freedoms are safe.
The Daily Signal: Why is this issue so important to you?
Don: Our faith drives everything we do, both professionally and personally. And, as ordained ministers, we certainly don’t check the teachings of our faith at the door when we open the Hitching Post on Monday mornings and begin marrying people.
No one, minister or not, should be forced by the government to abandon their religious beliefs, simply because they go to work.
Lynn: We follow the Bible, which is clear that marriage is between a man and a woman. For the government to demand we go against that would be a total violation of our relationship with God and a violation of our ordination vows.
The Hitching Post’s bylaws state that it is a religious organization owned by two ordained ministers who operate it as an extension of their religious beliefs and ministerial vows. If ministers cannot operate a business according to their religious beliefs, then no one can.