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Liberty Ridge denies same-sex wedding

Updated: 10/18/2012 3:06 PM
Created: 10/17/2012 11:57 AM WNYT.com
By: Abigail Bleck

ALBANY - When your engagement occurs at an apple orchard, the natural location for your wedding is a farm.

If you search "barn wedding Albany" on Google, Liberty Ridge Farm in Schaghticoke is the first result to pop up.

"It fit into our budget and was beautiful," recalled Melisa Erwin of Albany," recalled Melissa Erwin of Albany.

So Erwin and her fiancée Jennie McCarthy got busy planning.  Together for three years and engaged for one, the two hoped to marry in summer of 2013, but Liberty Ridge responded that the site wasn't available -- not because it was already reserved, but because they're lesbians.

"That's when she said, 'Now we have a problem,'" remembered Erwin.

"When we asked why it was just, 'That's what my husband and I decided. We've been married a long time and it's great you're getting married and all, but you can't do it here,'" added McCarthy.

This year Liberty Ridge has 15 weddings booked.  Nuptials are a growing market for the 26-year-old farm, but owner Robert Gifford is adamant -- they don't host same-sex marriages.

"I think it's our right to choose who we market to, like any business," Gifford explained during an interview at the farm Friday afternoon.

It appears that will be up to New York to decide. The state's Human Rights Law bans places of accommodation from discrimination against individuals based on sexual orientation.

"It seems like the women would have a strong argument that it is a place of public accommodation," said David Fallon, a discrimination attorney with Tully Rinckey Law Firm who is not representing the couple.

But because marriage equality is so new in New York -- legal for just more than a year – there is no case law to support or reject the discrimination claim the women filed with the state Division of Human Rights.  

"We have the laws now, but we don't have judges interpreting them, which is why it's a blank slate," added Fallon.

Now McCarthy and Erwin's hope is that no one else goes through what they have.

"You think you found someone you want to spend the rest of your life with and it's a great thing and you want everyone to be happy for you," said McCarthy.

"Makes you feel like people out there are judging and think it's wrong," adds Erwin.

However, Liberty Ridge's owners stand strong with their decision. They say they've denied two gay marriage requests.

"We are a family business and we just feel we ought to stay down the family path," added Gifford.

A family is exactly what Erwin and McCarthy say they hope to become.

"We're valid. We matter," said Erwin.

"Right, people are people and everyone should be treated fairly," explained McCarthy.

Religious sites and a venue with membership, like the Knights of Columbus, are exempt from the New York State Discrimination Law in regards to same-sex marriage.  There is no mention of religious affiliation or membership in any of Liberty Ridge's literature. 

It's important to note, when the women spoke to the farm, the owner was polite and respectful.  Ms. Gifford even apologized for the denial.

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