The phone call at 8:30 p.m. seemed routine for Cynthia and Robert Gifford—a bride-to-be inquiring about holding a wedding at their home, Liberty Ridge Farm in upstate New York.
Then Cynthia Gifford realized the caller wanted to book their family farm near the village of Schaghticoke for a same-sex wedding. She politely declined.
“We’re not hateful people,” Gifford said in an interview with The Daily Signal, holding back tears. “We just believe that a marriage is between a man and a woman, and we do not want to hold a [same-sex] marriage ceremony here on our family farm because the state tells us we have to do it.”
In this special video report from The Daily Signal, Cynthia Gifford tells the story of the government’s unexpected action to punish her and her husband for their religious beliefs. James Trainor, the Gifford’s private attorney allied with Alliance Defending Freedom, explains the constitutional issues at stake.
>>> News director’s note: Skip ahead if you’re short on time. You won’t want to miss what Cynthia Gifford says in the last minute.
Initially, Gifford—a Christian, as is her husband—had no idea the caller was recording their conversation.
That was Sept. 25, 2012. The lesbian couple, Melisa Erwin and Jennifer McCarthy, soon filed a complaint with the New York State Division of Human Rights.
In July, an administrative law judge ruled that by not agreeing to hold the wedding at their home, the Giffords discriminated against the couple, who had their wedding elsewhere. A state human rights commissioner last month fined the Giffords $10,000 and ordered them to pay the women $1,500 each.
Because Liberty Ridge Farm is open to the public for seasonal activities such as an annual fall festival, the state of New York classifies it as a public accommodation that cannot discriminate on the basis of certain personal characteristics, including sexual orientation.
“All New Yorkers are entitled to their own religious beliefs, but businesses cannot discriminate based on sexual orientation any more than they can based on race or national origin,” Mariko Hirose, the attorney for the two women who filed the complaint, told Religion News Service.
Hirose has not responded to The Daily Signal’s requests for an interview.