Elderly lesbian couple lose discrimination case against retirement home

Married lesbian couple Mary Walsh and Ben Nance lost their discrimination case against Friendship Village.

An elderly lesbian couple have lost their discrimination case against a retirement home that denied them a spot after finding out the two were married.

A Missouri district court has objected to the couple’s claim of discrimination on the basis of sex, finding that the retirement home would have similarly rejected a gay couple in virtue of their religious definition of marriage as a heterosexual union.

“Under these circumstances, the Court finds the claims boil down to those of discrimination based on sexual orientation rather than sex alone,” the court decided, according to a document issued on Wednesday (January 16).

Sexual orientation is not a protected category under either of the legislations the couple had quoted in their complaint, namely the Fair Housing Act nor the Missouri Human Rights Act. The laws prohibit discrimination on the basis of  “race, colour, religion, sex, familial status, or national origin.”

Why was Friendship Village accused of discrimination against the lesbian couple?

Mary Walsh, 72, and Beverly Nance, 68, married in 2009 after being together since 1978.

The complaint stated that, having spent most of their working lives hiding their relationship for fear of being fired, “after retiring and getting legally married, they thought they were living in a new time of increased acceptance.”

The couple had visited the senior living community of Friendship Village in Sunset Hills, Missouri, a few times and met fellow residents and staff, eventually placing a $2,000 deposit and joining the waiting list on July 22, 2016.

Within the following week, the lesbian couple was contacted twice by the retirement home to confirm their relationship status, and eventually denied a place at the retirement home because they do not allowed same-sex married couples to live in a single unit.

The retirement community provided the couple with a copy of their policy, which cited “biblical principles” and “sincerely-held religious standards” as justifications for limiting access to single-living units to heterosexual married couples.

“The term ‘marriage’ as used in this policy means the union of one man and one woman, as marriage is understood in the Bible,” the guidelines read.

Friendship Village rejected a lesbian couple because they were married.

The retirement home told the lesbian couple their application violated their policy. (Friendship Village Sunset Hills/Facebook)

The pair filed a federal lawsuit against the senior community in July, supported by lawyers from the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), Relman, Dane & Colfax PLLC, the ACLU of Missouri and Arlene Zarembka.

“We are disappointed by the court’s decision,” Walsh said in a statement quoted in local news outlet St. Louis Public Radio. “Bev and I are considering our next steps, and will discuss this with our attorneys.”

One of their lawyers, Zarembka, was also quoted in the publication expressing disappointment with the decision. “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,” the lawyer said. “That Mary and Bev are lesbians doesn’t change this analysis.”

Missouri is one of 26 states that lacks full protections against discrimination of LGBT people

On Tuesday (January 15), Missouri House of Representatives lawmakers rejected a bill that would have protected House staffers from being fired for being LGBT+.

One lawmaker voting against the bill cited concerns that the protections would have infringed on religious liberties, the Associated Press reported.