Liberty Ridge Farm’s courageous stand for authentic marriage and religious freedom has gotten the small family farm in hot water—and an appellate court in New York has no problem with that.
Last November, the State of New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division, Third Judicial Department heard arguments in Matter of Gifford v. Erwin. Robert and Cynthia Gifford, the owners of Liberty Ridge Farm, appealed from an order of the New York State Division of Human Rights (DHR) finding the Giffords and the Farm liable for unlawful discrimination because they declined to host a same-sex “wedding.” J. Caleb Dalton, Esq. of Alliance Defending Freedom argued the case for the petitioners, and was subjected to intense and aggressive questioning from the five-judge panel.
On January 14, 2016, the Appellate Division issued its decision. In a unanimous, 5-0 opinion authored by liberal presiding Justice Karen K. Peters the Appellate Division rejected Liberty Ridge Farm’s appeal. The Appellate Division employed questionable reasoning in reaching this result. In analyzing the Giffords’ claims under the Free Exercise Clause of the New York State Constitution, the Court found that the DHR’s order “[did] not require [the Giffords] to participate in the marriage of a same-sex couple,” leaving them free to hold and express their beliefs about marriage so long as they “permit[ted] same-sex couples to marry on the premises if they choose to allow opposite-sex couples to do so.” Also, when reviewing the Giffords’ First Amendment claims regarding compelled speech, the Court stated that requiring the Giffords to allow same-sex “weddings” at the Farm “does [not] require them to recite or display any message at all.” Remarkably, the Court reasoned that “there is no real likelihood that the Giffords would be perceived as endorsing the values or lifestyle of the [same-sex couple]” by virtue of allowing that couple to hold a same-sex “wedding” in their family’s house and back yard.
“‘All Americans should be free to live and work according to their beliefs, especially in our own backyards,’” commented Caleb Dalton. “‘The court should have rejected this unwarranted and unconstitutional government intrusion, so we will consult with our client regarding appeal.’” James P. Trainor, Esq., the Giffords’ local attorney, agreed, stating that “‘[t]he Constitution prohibits the government from forcing anyone to help communicate messages that conflict with their core beliefs about marriage. The Giffords welcome all people to the farm, but not all messages or events.’”
This sad turn of events illustrates the need for the New York State Legislature to pass legislation protecting Liberty Ridge Farm and others from having to choose between their livelihoods and their Christian beliefs. As for the Giffords, they are weighing their options regarding another possible appeal.