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Same-Sex Couple Vs. Wedding Venue

WAMC photo by Dave Lucas
Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings signs documents for a same-sex couple during midnight hour marriages at City Hall.

In 2011, New York became the sixth and largest state to sanction same-sex unions. Hailed at the time as a landmark moment for gay rights, the power of that law is being tested today.

What was unthinkable decades ago and until recently only a dream for same-sex couples is now reality - but a pending court case demonstrates public acceptance is not a given. Melisa and Jennie McCarthy, formerly of Albany, filed a complaint against Liberty Ridge Farm in October 2012. The lesbian couple has asked New York's Division of Human Rights agency to rule that the Schaghticoke wedding venue broke the law when its operators refused to book their wedding. The same-sex couple is seeking damages in a case that could set precedent.

A spokesman for farm owners Robert and Cynthia Gifford says their farm is a private business on private property.  Jason McGuire, executive director of New Yorkers For Constitutional Freedoms, says that the Giffords affirm their constitutional freedom of religion trumps state law and allows them to "conscientiously object" to something they don't believe is appropriate. McGuire faults the language of the law.

Attorneys from the New York Civil Liberties Union told an administrative law judge Wednesday that the 100-acre farm is a business open to the public and subject to the state's anti-discrimination laws.

Political consultant Libby Post was founding chair of the Empire State Pride Agenda. She says there is legal precedent supporting the McCarthy's position.  Jason McGuire believes Americans will see more infringements of religious freedoms and constitutional challenges.

The two sides reportedly had discussed a settlement that was rejected by the Human Rights Division. The McCarthy's were married in the Albany area in early August, and have since left New York.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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