Religious freedom picked up a minor victory this week in St. Louis, Missouri, where a lesbian couple lost their lawsuit against a faith-based retirement community for denying them approval to purchase a home in the senior living facility.
St. Louis Public Radio reports that U.S. District Judge Jean Hamilton ruled in favor of Sunset Hills retirement community this week because no illegal discrimination took place.
"Mary Walsh and Beverly Nance took Friendship Village to federal court for sex discrimination in July, after the senior-living facility denied the same-sex couple’s housing application," reports SLPR. "Friendship Village cited its ‘Cohabitation Policy’ as the reason for the rejection. The policy defines marriage as between one man and one woman, as 'marriage is understood in the Bible.'"
Representing the plaintiffs were the ACLU of Missouri and the National Center for Lesbian Rights, which argued that Friendship Village discriminated against the couple on the basis of sex.
"Friendship Village’s denial of housing to Mary and Bev because they are two women, and not a man and a woman, is discrimination ‘because of sex’ in the most literal sense," said Arlene Zarembka, a lawyer for the plaintiffs. "That Mary and Bev are lesbians doesn’t change this analysis."
The plaintiffs could not argue they were discriminated against due to sexual orientation given that the federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination against renters or homebuyers due to "race, color, religion, sex, familial status, or national origin." Judge Jean Hamilton wrote in a memorandum, "the Court finds the claims boil down to those of discrimination based on sexual orientation rather than sex alone."
Neither the Fair Housing Act nor the Missouri Human Rights Act declares it illegal for a property owner to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation.
Mary Walsh expressed disappointment with the court's decision. "We are disappointed by the court’s decision," Walsh said in a statement. "Bev and I are considering our next steps, and will discuss this with our attorneys."
"We've been together for nearly 40 years and have spent our lives in St. Louis. We want to grow older here by each other's side. We should not be prevented from accessing the housing and care we need."
Back in August, Walsh told The New York Times that she felt good about the community after meeting several of its residents whom she described as "very friendly." The couple put down a $2,000 security deposit after filling out the applications. Trouble started when the resident director inquired about the nature of Mary and Bev's relationship, as reported by The Blaze.
"We'd met other people from the community, and they were very friendly," Walsh said. "I was feeling good about it."
In a statement, attorney Julie Wilensky of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, said, "Mary and Bev were denied housing for one reason and one reason only — because they were married to each other rather than to men. This is exactly the type of sex discrimination the Fair Housing Act prohibits. Their story demonstrates the kind of exclusion and discrimination still facing same-sex couples of all ages."
ACLU of Missouri Legal Director Tony Rothert also said, "Mary and Bev were financially and otherwise qualified for residency in the Friendship Village community. Their exclusion from this community is the result of discrimination alone."