Venue owners who wouldn't host lesbian wedding ask New York appeals court to reverse $13K fine

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ALBANY, New York — Owners of a wedding venue who were fined $13,000 for violating the state's anti-discrimination law argued Monday that they should be legally allowed to follow their Christian faith.

The owners of Liberty Ridge Farm north of Albany refused to host the 2013 wedding of Melisa and Jennie McCarthy, citing their religious beliefs. Now the business owned by Robert and Cynthia Gifford is appealing a ruling from the state's Division of Human Rights that they violated New York law and seeking to have the fine reversed.

"It would violate the Giffords' faith to facilitate this union," attorney Caleb Dalton told a five-judge panel of the Appellate Division of state Supreme Court.

Dalton, counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom, said their faith does not allow them to participate in a marriage that is not between one man and one woman.

Mariko Hirose, an attorney with the New York Civil Liberties Union, said the McCarthys, who now live in the New York City area, were "heartbroken" when they were turned away from the Giffords' farm. Hirose and a lawyer for the human rights division argued that the business cannot be exempted from having to follow anti-discrimination laws.

"We should not have a situation where people feel they are second-class because of their sexual orientation," attorney Michael Swirsky told the court.

The judges on the mid-level appeals court are expected to issue a ruling within the next two months.

The Giffords attended the hearing, and afterward Cynthia Gifford told reporters they are asking the court to respect the freedoms America was built upon.

"When the government tells you what to say and punishes you if you don't, it's very frightening," she said. "And all of us Americans should be scared about this, no matter where we stand on the issue."

The McCarthys were not in court Monday. Melisa McCarthy said in a statement released by the NYCLU that they feel compelled to continue their fight.

"We will do whatever we can to make sure that no other couple has to deal with the same feelings of sadness and anxiety that we wrestled with from the moment we realized that, though the laws have changed, same-sex couples are far from being treated as equal," she said.

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