Married since 2009, and together for decades before that, Mary Walsh and Beverly Nance wanted to live in a retirement home in Sunset Hills, Missouri.
But in July 2016, Friendship Village Sunset Hills refused to let the women stay there because they are a gay couple, according to St. Louis Public Radio. It has a “Cohabitation Policy” that says it only allows “marriage (that) is understood in the Bible,” the outlet reported.
At first, the couple filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in October 2016, but the couple later dropped it and instead filed a complaint against the retirement home in district court in July 2018.
And on Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Jean Hamilton ruled against the couple, who argued they had been discriminated against on the basis of sex, according to a court filing.
The judge ruled it was discrimination on the basis of “sexual orientation rather than sex” — and that isn’t protected in the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers “North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri and Arkansas,” according to NBC News.
Because of that distinction, Hamilton decided that Friendship Village Sunset Hills was within its right to deny housing to all gay and lesbian couples.
“We are disappointed by the court’s decision,” Walsh said, according to The St. Louis Public Radio. “Bev and I are considering our next steps, and will discuss this with our attorneys.”
Twenty-one states and Washington, D.C., protect LGBT people from housing discrimination, according to the Human Rights Campaign. The organization reports that Missouri does not have protections for LGBT people in housing, along with in education and employment.
As reported by The Kansas City Star, Missouri Gov. Mike Parson has indicated that he’s “open to the idea of extending discrimination protections to LGBT Missourians.”
As the judge wrote in her decision, The Fair Housing Act makes it illegal to discriminate based on a person’s “race, color, religion, sex, familial status, or national origin.” Walsh and Nance argued that their sex was at the center of the discrimination, as the retirement home would have permitted them to live together if one of them were male.
But Hamilton wrote that she is “bound by the law of the Eight Circuit,” which has ruled that sexual orientation is not protected under The Fair Housing Act. She pointed to Williamson v. A.G. Edwards & Sons, a 1989 case in the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that found federal law “does not prohibit discrimination against homosexuals.”
Julie Wilensky, from the National Center for Lesbian Rights, argued that the decision against her clients was not ruled correctly.
“Planning for senior housing is a big decision, and Mary and Bev chose Friendship Village because it is in their community, they have friends there and it offers services that would allow them to stay together there for the rest of their lives,” she told McKnight’s Senior Living. “The discrimination they experienced was very hurtful. If Mary were a man married to Bev, instead of a woman married to Bev, Friendship Village would not have turned them away.”
Michael Adams, CEO of Services & Advocacy for GLBT Elders, told McKnight’s Senior Living that this case shows how discrimination can follow gay couples throughout their lives.
It “underlines that much more must be done to protect LGBTQ older people from bias and mistreatment as they age,” he told the newspaper. “SAGE will work tirelessly to ensure that people like Mary and Bev – and all LGBT older people – are treated with the respect and dignity they deserve and are protected against discrimination by the laws of this country.”
“Representatives from Friendship Village could not be immediately reached Wednesday evening to comment on the ruling,” The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. Both St. Louis Public Radio and McKnight’s Senior Living reported they did not receive a response, too.