Lesbian brides win settlement from Vermont inn

BOSTON Fri Aug 24, 2012 9:33am EDT

New York lesbian couple Ming Linsley (L) and Kate Baker are pictured at a news conference in Montpelier, VT in this July 19, 2011 handout photo. REUTERS/ACLU/Handout

New York lesbian couple Ming Linsley (L) and Kate Baker are pictured at a news conference in Montpelier, VT in this July 19, 2011 handout photo.

Credit: Reuters/ACLU/Handout

BOSTON (Reuters) - A resort in northern Vermont has settled a lawsuit brought after it refused to host a lesbian couple's wedding reception, citing the innkeepers' "personal feelings."

The Wildflower Inn in Lyndonville declined to host an event for Kate Linsley (nee Baker) and Ming Linsley, both of New York, saying innkeepers Mary and Jim O'Reilly did not host "gay receptions."

As part of the settlement, the resort will pay $10,000 to the Vermont Human Rights Commission and place $20,000 in a charitable trust to be disbursed by the Linsleys, according to the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Vermont.

It also agreed to no longer host wedding receptions.

The commission was a co-plaintiff in the proceedings.

"We're glad that the Wildflower Inn has recognized that the way we were treated was wrong and that no other family will have to experience what we did," said Ming Linsley, 35.

"All families should feel welcome at any resort that's open to the public," she said.

The couple had planned to hold their wedding ceremony at a Buddhist retreat in northern Vermont in 2011 and their reception at a nearby inn.

The 24-room, dog-friendly Wildflower Inn, which sits on 570 acres of picturesque terrain, promotes itself on its website as an ideal spot for romantic getaways, among other things.

In the course of planning the reception, Channie Peters, Ming Linsley's mother, received material from the inn saying "you could not offer a better 'destination wedding' location for your guests."

When Peters informed the inn in 2010 that the happy couple would be "bride and bride," she received an email from the inn's events director, with the subject line "I have bad news."

It said the Wildflower Inn would not host the reception due to the innkeepers' "personal feelings."

The Vermont Fair Housing and Public Accommodations Act prohibits public accommodations from denying goods and services based on customers' sexual orientation.

The law applies to inns, restaurants, schools, stores and other businesses that serve the general public. Exceptions are made for religious organizations and small inns with five or fewer rooms.

"We didn't want to stay quiet and allow businesses to continue to think they can discriminate," said Kate Linsley, 32.

Wildflower Inn owner Jim O 'Reilly said his business could not "match the limitless resources of the government and the ACLU."

"The Wildflower Inn has always served - and will continue to serve - everyone in our community. But no one can force us to abandon our deeply held beliefs about marriage," O'Reilly s a id in a statement issued by the Alliance Defending Freedom, a faith-based legal ministry based in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Vermont, among the most liberal of U.S. states, has allowed civil unions between same sex-couples since 2000, and gay marriage has been legal since 2009.

The complaint was Baker and Linsley vs the Wildflower Inn, filed in Vermont Superior Court. (Reporting By Ros Krasny; editing by Todd Eastham and Philip Barbara)