NY farmers: Can we obey our faith in our own backyard?

ADF attorney available to media following hearing concerning couple fined $13,000 for declining to coordinate same-sex ceremony behind their home
Friday, November 20, 2015

Transcript: Cynthia Gifford's comments following hearing on Nov. 23, 2015

Attorney sound bites:  Caleb Dalton #1 | Caleb Dalton #2

WHO: ADF Legal Counsel Caleb Dalton, ADF-allied attorney James Trainor
WHAT: Available for media interviews following oral argument in Gifford v. Erwin
WHEN: Monday, Nov. 23, immediately following hearing, which begins at 9:30 a.m. EDT
WHERE: State of New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division, Third Department, Robert Abrams Building for Law and Justice, State Street, Albany

ALBANY, N.Y. – Alliance Defending Freedom Legal Counsel Caleb Dalton and ADF-allied attorney James Trainor will be available for media interviews following Dalton’s oral argument Monday in state court on behalf of the owners of an upstate farm who are appealing a New York State Division of Human Rights decision against them for declining to coordinate a same-sex wedding ceremony in their own backyard.

Cynthia and Robert Gifford live in a barn they built on their farm and have occasionally hosted weddings on the first floor and the surrounding backyard area. Cynthia serves as a wedding coordinator for those events and does everything but officiate the ceremony. After the agency ruled that the Giffords were guilty of “sexual orientation discrimination,” it fined them $10,000 plus $3,000 in damages and ordered them to implement re-education training classes designed to contradict the couple’s religious beliefs about marriage.

“All Americans should be free to live and work according to their beliefs, especially in their own backyards,” said Dalton. “The government is coming after both this couple’s freedom and their ability to make a living simply for adhering to their faith on their own property.”
ADF attorneys argue that the government did not consider the Giffords’ constitutionally protected freedoms and religious beliefs. During the proceedings, neither the administrative law judge nor the Division of Human Rights addressed the Giffords’ First Amendment rights.

“The Giffords welcome all people to the farm, but not all messages or events,” explained Trainor, one of more than 2,600 private attorneys allied with ADF. “The Constitution guarantees that the Giffords may decline to help communicate messages that conflict with their core beliefs about marriage.”

As the opening brief filed on appeal in Gifford v. Erwin stated, “In this case, the New York State Division of Human Rights…, in the name of human rights, has mandated religious discrimination by requiring a family to host and participate in a marriage ceremony that violates their faith, and by imposing a heavy fine on them because they are unwilling to do so. New York law does not require this result, and in fact, the state and federal Constitutions forbid it.”

On Sept. 25, 2012, Melisa McCarthy called Cynthia Gifford, inquiring about the use of the farm for her upcoming same-sex ceremony. Because of her Christian faith’s teachings on marriage, Cynthia politely told McCarthy that she and her husband don’t host and coordinate same-sex ceremonies but left open the invitation to visit the farm to consider it as a potential reception site. Instead, McCarthy and her partner filed a complaint with the Division of Human Rights.

Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.

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Comments of Cynthia Gifford following hearing

Monday, November 23, 2015

My name is Cynthia Gifford. My husband, Robert, and I own Liberty Ridge Farm - a farm we’ve had in our family for 45 years. We’ve raised our two children on the farm, we built a barn for our family to live in on the farm, and we make a living from our farm. We love Liberty Ridge - it’s our life.

After we began hosting fall activities for families and children, people began expressing interest in having their weddings on our farm, and so, we began hosting them in our backyard and first floor of our barn. I coordinate the weddings, and Robert and I do whatever we can do to create a custom event that will make it a special day for the couple. It’s been a joy to see people enjoy our home as much as we do.

A couple of years ago, a woman called, inquiring about using our farm for her wedding. It was a very short phone call, and it became clear to me the event would be for a same-sex wedding. We welcome all to our farm, and gladly and respectfully serve all people for a variety of events regardless of how the guest identifies. But, because wedding ceremonies are inherently religious, sacred events, Robert and I, as Christians, cannot coordinate same-sex wedding ceremonies – to do so, would be to violate our faith and conscience. However, we do host same-sex wedding receptions. I told the woman we wouldn’t be able to host her ceremony, and she said, “That’s too bad” and hung up. Next thing I knew, we were being sued.

All Robert and I want is the freedom to peacefully live and work faithfully on our family farm and according to what God says about marriage without fear of government punishment. The America we love is one where we respect each other’s differences, and the government still protects the freedom to have those differences. Others have the freedom to say or not say what they want to about marriage, and that’s all we are asking for, as well.