Elderly lesbian couple denied place at retirement home


Pic: Mary Walsh

In a shockingly unfair decision, a US judge has ruled that a retirement home was allowed to reject a lesbian couple, because the women are married to each other.

Mary Walsh, 72, and Bev Nance, 68, who have been together for almost four decades, were turned away from the Friendship Village senior housing community in St. Louis, Missouri.

The facility told the legally married women that it would not accept them because it followed the “Biblical definition” of marriage and “defined marriage as between a man and a woman.”

The National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), Relman, Dane & Colfax PLLC, and others filed a discrimination lawsuit in July, 2018 on behalf of the couple.

“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,” said Walsh. “We should not be prevented from accessing the housing and care we need.”

The NCLR noted that Friendship Village is not affiliated with or operated by any religion or religious order, is open to the public and does not inquire about the religious beliefs or affiliations of residents.

While Walsh and Nance considered seeking housing elsewhere, Friendship Village is the only senior housing community in St. Louis that can provide increased levels of care at a fee that the couple can afford.

On Wednesday, however, District Judge Jean C. Hamilton found that neither the Fair Housing Act nor the Missouri Human Rights Act prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Hamilton also dismissed the argument that the women were discriminated on the basis of their sex, which is now allowed by the laws.

Julie Wilensky, one of the couple’s attorneys, disagreed with the judge. She told the St. Louis Post Dispatch: “If Mary were a man married to Bev, instead of a woman married to Bev, Friendship Village would not have turned them away. This is a very straightforward example of discrimination ‘because of sex.’”

The case highlights the lack of uniform federal protection against discrimination for LGBTQ people in states across the US. As of June 2018, around 50 percent of LGBTQ Americans live in states where they are at risk of being fired, denied housing, or refused service because of who they are or who they love.

Walsh and Nance are now consulting with their legal team to look at their options.

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