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Wildflower Inn "Assaulting" Vermont Law? Human Rights Group Thinks So.

Joshua Block,
Senior Staff Attorney,
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October 4, 2011

The Wildflower Inn told Kate Baker and Ming Linsley that they could not have their wedding reception at the resort because the owners do not allow “gay receptions” at the facility. This discrimination clearly violated the Vermont Fair Housing and Public Accommodations Act, which specifically prohibits public accommodations, like the Wildflower Inn, from discriminating based on customers’ sexual orientation.

When we filed suit on behalf of Kate and Ming, the Wildflower Inn responded by asking the court to strike down Vermont’s anti-discrimination law as unconstitutional. The owners of the Wildflower Inn argued that even though they have chosen to operate a public business that advertises itself as open to the general public, the First Amendment gives the owners the right to pick and choose which customers they want to serve.

Earlier this week, we found out that the Wildflower Inn’s argument was so alarming that it prompted the Vermont Human Rights Commission to file a motion to intervene in Kate and Ming’s case to defend the constitutionality of Vermont’s non-discrimination law. The commission’s motion makes clear that the Wildflower Inn’s argument is nothing less than a “constitutional assault on the underpinnings of [Vermont’s public accommodation laws].”

The Commission also affirms what we already knew — that what happened to Kate and Ming was discrimination, plain and simple. When the owners of the Wildflower Inn decided to open up a public business they agreed to serve all members of the public on equal terms, in accordance with Vermont law.

In short, just because the Wildflower Inn is a “private business” does not mean they have free license to break the law. We do not allow the hotels, stores, or restaurants to pick and choose which customers they will serve based on the owners’ personal feelings about the customers. By moving to intervene, the Vermont Human Rights Commission has sent a clear message that when we allow business to deny goods and services to one group of people, then all of our rights are at risk.

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