Lesbian couple sues Vermont inn for discrimination; inn cries misunderstanding

It seems that lawsuits are never simple, and there are always at least two sides.

The latest example to catch my attention is the case of Baker and Linsley v. Wildflower Inn. In this case, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is working with a lesbian couple, Kate Baker and Ming Linsley, to sue a Vermont inn for refusing to host their wedding reception.

According to some case background on the ACLU website, the Wildflower Inn seemed very eager to host the reception until the innkeepers learned that the happy couple are two lesbians. Never mind the fact that same-sex marriage has been legal in Vermont since 2009; it appeared that the innkeepers wanted no part of it on their property.

The ACLU quotes an email from an employee of the inn who had been working with the mother of one of the brides on preliminary arrangements: “After our conversation, I checked in with my Innkeepers and unfortunately due to their personal feelings, they do not host gay receptions at our facility.”

And this wasn’t the first time, allegedly. According to the ACLU’s official complaint, filed July 19, “during the same 12-month period in which the Meeting and Events Director refused to allow Ming and Kate to hold their reception at the resort, the Meeting and Events Director also turned away at least two other same-sex couples pursuant to the Wildflower Inn’s no-gay-reception policy.”

Imagine the public outrage if interracial couples were treated this way in 2011!

According to the ACLU, “The Vermont Human Rights Law has prohibited public accommodations from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation for nearly 20 years.”

And, notes the ACLU, “This case is about discrimination, plain and simple. When a business that is open to the public refuses to serve two people and their guests solely because the two people are a same sex couple, it is no different than restaurants not serving individuals because they were black, or other businesses keeping out women or Jews. It is discrimination and it is illegal.”

But, as I noted above, there are always at least two sides to every lawsuit. So I called the Wildflower Inn. I expected to hear, “No comment.” Instead, I ended up speaking with a woman who wanted to talk, albeit reluctantly.

When she answered the phone at the inn, I introduced myself and explained that I am a writer in Philadelphia hoping to hear their side of the story. The woman (who did not give her name) said it was all a misunderstanding.

She went on to say that the Wildflower Inn employs a number of gay people, and that numerous gay guests have stayed there in the past and have returned for repeat visits.

Why then, I asked, were Ming and Kate turned away?

I did not get a straight answer to that question (pun unintended). But the woman on the phone seemed to imply it was the decision of the Meeting and Events Director, who had allegedly not consulted the owners at all.

I’ll leave it to the lawyers on both sides to drag out the real facts. And I’ll leave it to the courts to ultimately decide who at the inn broke the law, if indeed a law was broken. But, at the very least, the email quoted above certainly does make it seem like someone at the inn has a homophobia problem.

In the meantime, ABC News reports that Ming and Kate have found a different place to hold the festivities. I wish them all the best.

Mary Shaw is a Philadelphia-based writer and activist, with a focus on politics, human rights, and social justice. She is a former Philadelphia Area Coordinator for the Nobel-Prize-winning human rights group Amnesty International, and her views appear regularly in a variety of newspapers, magazines, and websites. Note that the ideas expressed here are the author’s own, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Amnesty International or any other organization with which she may be associated. E-mail: mary@maryshawonline.com.

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