A Christian retirement care facility in St. Louis, Missouri, is being sued after it turned away a lesbian couple in accordance with its biblically-based housing policy.
Seventy-two-year-old Mary Walsh and Bev Nance, 68, filed a federal lawsuit last month against the Missouri-based nondenominational nonprofit senior housing community Friendship Village Sunset Hills, a case that could have greater implications when it comes to the religious freedom rights of faith-based nonprofit institutions.
The couple, married since 2009, claim that the facility violated the Fair Housing Act and the Missouri Human Rights Act when it rejected their application for housing in July 2016 because they were a lesbian couple.
The refusal was based on the fact that Friendship Village’s “cohabitation policy” limits those who can live together in the same unit to spouses, parents, children and siblings. Although Walsh and Nance are legally married, Friendship Village’s policy defines marriage as “the union of one man and one woman, as marriage is understood in the Bible.”
In response, the couple initially filed a federal housing discrimination complaint last year with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. But considering the Trump administration’s wide interpretation of religious freedom, the couple have since turned to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri to claim Friendship Village engaged in sex discrimination.
Although neither federal or Missouri law ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, lawyers for the couple argue that if either Walsh or Nance was a man, their application wouldn’t have been rejected. (If both of them were men, their applications would still have been rejected under the cohabitation policy.)
The couple’s lawsuit not only asks the court to force Friendship Village to change its cohabitation policy but also asks the court for a permanent injunction that would allow the couple to move into Friendship Village, where several of their other friends reside.
“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,” Walsh said in a statement. “We should not be prevented from accessing the housing and care we need.”
The couple are being represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri and the National Center for Lesbian Rights.
“Mary and Bev were denied housing for one reason and one reason only — because they were married to each other rather than to men,” NCLR Senior Staff Attorney Julie Wilensky stated. “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.”
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SOURCE: Christian Post, Samuel Smith