A bed-and-breakfast in Vermont has reached a settlement with a lesbian couple over the business owners' opposition to holding a same-sex wedding ceremony on the business' property.
According to a settlement reached on Thursday, the Wildflower Inn of Lyndonville agreed to pay a fine of $10,000 to the Vermont Human Rights Commission and $20,000 to a charitable trust created by the lesbian couple.
In return, the VHRC and both parties acknowledge that the Wildflower Inn acted "in good faith" regarding their reliance on a 2005 case and no further legal action will be taken against the Inn.
"The Wildflower Inn has always served – and will continue to serve – everyone in our community. But no one can force us to abandon our deeply held beliefs about marriage," said Wildflower Inn owner Jim O'Reilly in a statement.
"Our beliefs haven't changed, but we do have lives to live, a family to love, a business to grow, and a community to serve."
The Alliance Defending Freedom, formerly known as the Alliance Defense Fund, represented the inn during the legal proceedings.
Jim Campbell, litigation staff counsel for the ADF, told The Christian Post that he was pleased with the settlement as it helped the Wildflower Inn owners return to focusing on business.
"The Inn's actual business practice, which the Vermont Human Rights Commission approved in 2005, was to honestly disclose its owners' religious convictions about marriage to potential customers while agreeing to serve everyone in accordance with the law," said Campbell.
"Nevertheless, the ACLU and the government sought to attack and punish the Wildflower Inn for this constitutionally protected expression. The owners of the Wildflower Inn are thankful that this attack is over."
In July 2011, the Vermont chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union filed a suit against Wildflower on behalf of a lesbian couple who were not allowed to hold a wedding ceremony at the business.
Joshua Block, staff attorney with the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Project, told The Christian Post that the settlement was a "terrific result."
"It makes clear that businesses that serve the general public have to serve everyone on equal terms and it reaffirms that discouraging people from using a public accommodation is just as illegal as explicitly refusing service," said Block.
"Everyone is entitled to their own religious beliefs, but when you decide to operate a business that is open to the public, those beliefs don't give you a license to discriminate."
"Every American should be free to live and do business consistent with their deeply held beliefs," said ADF Senior Counsel Byron Babione in a statement.
"It is unfortunate when a state agency teams up with the ACLU to harass and punish a private family business over its owners' constitutionally protected thoughts and beliefs. Legal attacks like this one are not pursuits for justice, but attempts to coerce and police private expression."