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Wedding industry illustrates unresolved legal relationship between religious freedom and gay rights

It's not always happily ever after for Christian business owners in the wedding industry, as recent religious freedom cases illustrate.

Cynthia and Robert Gifford, owners of Liberty Ridge Farm in New York, have decided to stop hosting wedding ceremonies after being fined for refusing to rent their space to a lesbian couple, The Blaze reported.

"The family will continue hosting wedding receptions, but ceremonies — which have traditionally been hosted inside the Giffords' home on the property or at another nearby location — will immediately cease."

When Administrative Law Judge Migdalia Pares ruled in mid-August, Religion News Service reported that the farm is both a business and a private residence, which complicated the case.

Quoting Adam Winkler, a law professor at the University of California, RNS reported that, although "public accommodation laws usually don't apply to private residences," the decision to start a home-based business removed the couple's right to refuse service based on their religious beliefs.

"If you want to open yourself up to the public, there's a cost, which is that you can't discriminate," said Winkler.

The Liberty Ridge Farm case was the latest in an ongoing conflict between religious freedom and same-sex marriage. Among the Christian business owners penalized for refusing to accommodate a gay wedding on religious grounds are a photographer in New Mexico, a florist in Washington and a wedding cake baker in Colorado.

In April, the Supreme Court rejected the appeal from New Mexico's Elane Photography, ensuring that related debates will remain at the state level for the time being, the Associated Press reported.

AP noted that leaders from "Alabama, Arizona, Kansas, Michigan, Montana, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Virginia had asked the high court to hear the case so lawmakers would have guidance in considering such measures."

Alliance Defending Freedom, which petitioned the Supreme Court for Elane Photography, has also represented several of the other business owners facing discrimination claims. It responded to the Giffords' decision in a short post.

Alluding to ongoing confusion about the appropriate legal response to the tension between gay rights and religious freedom, the post referred to America's "rush to redefine marriage" and the organization's concern for couples like the Giffords who only seek the freedom to follow their religious convictions.

Alliance Defending Freedom attorney James Trainor, the Giffords' lawyer, cited the First Amendment in his statement about the case, which was referenced by The Blaze. "The government should not force anyone to participate in or celebrate an event that violates their faith and beliefs," he wrote.

Email: kdallas@deseretnews.com Twitter: @kelsey_dallas