Free to Believe

Cynthia and Robert Gifford

Liberty Ridge Farm: Schaghticoke, New York

On Sept. 25, 2012, Melisa McCarthy called Cynthia Gifford, inquiring about the use of Liberty Ridge Farm for her upcoming wedding. Shortly into their conversation, Gifford realized that the requested wedding was for a lesbian couple seeking to solemnize their court-created same-sex marriage. After New York had legalized same-sex marriage, Gifford and her husband Robert had decided against renting Liberty Ridge Farm—their family farm in Schaghticoke, New York—for same-sex ceremonies. The Giffords said they'd be happy to open up Liberty Ridge Farm's barn to a reception, but because of their faith, couldn't in good conscience participate in the ceremony.  The Giffords later found out that McCarthy had taped the private phone conversation with Cynthia and subsequently filed a complaint against them with the New York Human Rights Commission.

In August 2014, the New York Human Rights Commission ruled that the Giffords were guilty of "sexual orientation discrimination," were fined $13,000 for refusing to violate their faith, and ordered to implement staff re-education training classes that taught the state's viewpoint on marriage.

The family's attorney, Alliance Defending Freedom's James Trainor, expressed his concern. "Liberty Ridge Farm has employed gay people and has conducted events for same-sex couples," he explained.  "The Giffords' objection was to... participating in the wedding ceremony itself and not to providing service in general to lesbians."

In a statement published by The Blaze Trainor noted, "Going forward, [Cynthia and Robert Gifford] have decided to no longer host any wedding ceremonies on their property." He continued, "[s]ince the order essentially compelled them to do all ceremonies or none at all, they have chosen the latter in order to stay true to their religious convictions, even though it will likely hurt their business in the short run." 

On October 2, 2014, the Giffords and their attorney filed a petition in New York state court. According to Alliance Defending Freedom, "The appeal filed in Gifford v. New York State Division of Human Rights argues, in part, that the commissioner did not consider Robert and Cynthia's constitutional freedoms and religious beliefs. During the proceedings, the judge never addressed the Giffords' First Amendment rights."

Additionally, the Gifford's attorney James Trainor argued that "[a]ll Americans should be free to live and work according to their beliefs. Entering the marketplace doesn't mean the government can force a person to surrender their First Amendment freedoms or face punishment...."

Even with their appeal pending, however, the Giffords paid a $13,000 fine—$10,000 to the state and $1,500 to each woman in the lesbian couple.

In late June of 2015, attorneys for the Giffords filed their opening brief in their appeal to the New York courts. In the brief, they decried the fact that the couple recorded their initial phone call with the Giffords—proving that the case was an “orchestrated set-up.”

Photo credit: Courtesy of Alliance Defending Freedom

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