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N.Y. farm appeals $13,000 fine for refusing lesbian couple's wedding

The Liberty Ridge Farm is appealing a judge's $13,000 fine. They are citing their Christian beliefs that marriage is between a man and a woman. 

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    Jen Chang, left, and Inae Lee pose for photos before joining over 100 gay couples in a June mass wedding during World Pride 2014 at Casa Loma in Toronto.
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The owners of an upstate New York wedding venue who were fined $13,000 after refusing to host a lesbian wedding are appealing the ruling.

The owners of Liberty Ridge Farm north of Albany refused to host the 2013 wedding of Melisa and Jennie McCarthy, citing their Christian beliefs that marriage is between a man and a woman. The state's Division of Human Rights ruled that business owned by Robert and Cynthia Gifford violated New York's anti-discrimination law.

“The policy to not allow same-sex marriage ceremonies on Liberty Ridge Farm is a denial of access to a place of public accommodation,” Judge Migdalia Pares wrote in her decision in August 2014.

Pares fined Liberty Ridge Farm $10,000 for violating the state’s non-discrimination law, and ordered Gifford to pay an additional $3,000 to the couple for “mental anguish each suffered as a result of respondents’ unlawfully discriminatory conduct.”

The Giffords' lawyer, James Trainor, said at the time of the initial ruling that he was surprised the judge did not incorporate the U.S. Supreme Court's recent Hobby Lobby decision, in which justices said a closely-held company could deny some forms of contraception to its employees because they conflicted with the religious beliefs of its owners.

“We're disappointed that neither the judge nor the commissioner even mentioned the Gifford's … First Amendment rights, including the right not to be compelled to participate in a religious ceremony which violates their own religious beliefs,” Trainor wrote in an email, reported Capital New York. He said the monetary penalty is a “significant burden” to the family that is “disproportionate to the single interaction between the parties - a telephone call of several minutes duration.”

 Lawyers for the Giffords will argue before a mid-level appeals court Monday in Albany. The couple's lawyers contend they were exercising their constitutional rights.

The New York Civil Liberties Union represented the McCarthys in their civil rights complaint. The NYCLU says the Giffords didn't have the right to discriminate against the couple. . “This ruling sets an important precedent protecting the rights of LGBT New Yorkers, and will help ensure that businesses understand New York law and treat all patrons with the dignity and respect they deserve,” according to Capital New York.

In Oregon, the owners of a bakery were fined $135,000 for refusing to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple more than two years ago. 

Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian awarded the damages in July for emotional suffering, saying the owners had violated the women's civil rights by discriminating on the basis of their sexual orientation.

But the owners of Sweet Cakes by Melissa are refusing to pay the fine. The Kleins have filed an appeal of the ruling and are defying the order to pay. They're claiming financial hardship although crowdfunding efforts have brought in over $500,000 on their behalf, The Oregonian reported.

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