A Christian couple who were sued by the powerful US lobby group the American Civil Liberties Union for standing up for their belief in traditional marriage have been forced to pay $30,000 in an out of court settlement.
The ACLU sued the couple, Jim and Mary O’Reilly, because they refused to host a lesbian wedding reception in 2011.
The couple, the owners of the Wildflower Inn in the state of Vermont, said they “wanted to end this ordeal and the threat that the litigation” posed to their business.
The ACLU began proceedings on behalf of a lesbian couple, Kate Baker and Ming Linsley, in July of 2011 and the Vermont Human Rights Commission later intervened as a co-plaintiff in the proceedings.
The suit was based on the lesbian couple’s claim that the O'Reilly's had violated Vermont’s Fair Housing and Public Accommodations Act, which prohibits inns, hotels, motels and other establishments with five or more rooms from turning away patrons based on sexual orientation.
When the lawsuit was filed, Wildflower Inn owners Jim and Mary O’Reilly wrote in a prepared statement that they had never refused rooms or dining or employment to gays or lesbians.
“Many of our guests have been same-sex couples. We welcome and treat all people with respect and dignity,” they said.
However they added: “We do not however, feel that we can offer our personal services wholeheartedly to celebrate the marriage between same-sex couples because it goes against everything that we as Catholics believe in.”
In a later statement, they added the Vermont legislation under which they were being sued violated their right to free speech and freedom of association by forcing them to hold “expressive events”.
Under the terms of the settlement, the Wildflower Inn will pay $10,000 to the Vermont Human Rights Commission and $20,000 to a charitable trust governed by the lesbian couple. The inn will also stop hosting weddings.
In their statement , the couple said: “The Wildflower Inn has always served -- and will continue to serve -- everyone in our community. But no one can force us to abandon our deeply held beliefs about marriage.”