ACLU Says Lyndonville Inn Discriminated Against Women

07/19/11 5:50PM By John Dillon
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AP/Toby Talbot
Ming Linsley, left, and Kate Baker say in a lawsuit that the Wildflower Inn discriminated against them because they're gay.

(Host) The American Civil Liberties Union says a Northeast Kingdom inn discriminated against two New York women who wanted to hold their wedding reception there.

The women planned to celebrate at the Wildlflower Inn in Lyndonville this fall, but they were told the inn did not host gay receptions. They've now sued the inn, charging that it violated Vermont's public accommodation law.

VPR's John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) Like any soon-to-be mother of the bride, Channie Peters says she was thrilled to help with her daughter Ming's wedding.

(Peters) When Ming told me that Kate had proposed I was surprised because I didn't really expect that she was going to get married. But when I realized that it was for real, I was ecstatic. My only daughter, I was going to get to plan a wedding.

(Dillon) Peters says she contacted the Vermont Convention Bureau to find a location, and got information on the Wildflower Inn in Lyndonville. The inn bills itself as New England's best family resort. And the country setting seemed perfect. Peters said she was prepared to spend $30,000 on a reception for 120 guests.

But after the events manager learned the reception was for a same-sex couple, Peters says she got a email with the disturbing subject line: "I have bad news." The message said the inn keepers do not host gay wedding receptions.

(Peters) "I felt that my daughter had been attacked. I felt the heart-wrenching pain that a parent feels when someone has hurt their child. And they didn't even know what a kind, gentle caring person she is. How could they do this to her?"

(Dillon) The American Civil Liberties Union says the Wildflower Inn can't legally deny services to same sex couples.

The ACLU represents Ming Linsley and her fiancé Katherine Baker in a lawsuit that charges the inn violated Vermont's fair housing and public accommodations act.

Vermont ACLU lawyer Dan Barrett says the couple is not asking for financial damages.

(Barrett) "This is not a case about money. And what we want is for the inn to cease its current practices, and to never do it again."

(Dillon) A spokeswoman for the Wildflower Inn said the company had no comment. Its web site says the inn no longer hosts weddings or special events.

The ACLU stressed this case was not about same-sex marriage. Joshua Block is with the LBGT project at the ACLU Foundation in New York.

(Block) "What the inn did here was illegal before marriage was legalized. It was illegal before the civil unions law was passed. It's important to us that people see this type of discrimination as discrimination and not as something else just because it occurs in the context of a wedding celebration."

(Dillon) Katherine Baker says the couple felt an obligation to challenge the inn in court.

(Baker) "If we don't speak up when we were being mistreated then how can we expect other people to treat us well."

(Dillon) Katherine Baker and her partner, Ming Linsley say they still plan to get married in Vermont this fall.

For VPR News, I'm John Dillon in Montpelier.

(Host) Inn owners, Jim and Mary O'Reilly, issued a statement saying they are devout Catholics and cannot sanction a marriage between a same-sex couple because it goes against their faith.


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