A lesbian couple is suing a senior living community in St. Louis, Missouri for discrimination.
Mary Walsh, 72, and Bev Nance, 68, who are married and have been together for nearly four decades, first applied to Friendship Village senior living community in July 2016.
According to the lawsuit, they received a letter on 29 July. It denied them housing based on the community’s ‘Cohabitation Policy’.
This policy defines marriage as ‘the union of one man and one woman, as marriage is understood in the Bible’.
It also states that Friendship Village is not affiliated with or run by any religious organizations. Their mission statement, however, reads: ‘Guided by Biblical values, continually serve the senior community with quality offerings that promote lifelong well-being.’
Walsh and Nance are represented by the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), the ACLU, and the firm Relman, Dane & Colfax.
They are suing due to discrimination on the basis of sex, which violates both the federal Fair Housing Act (FHA) and the Missouri Human Rights Act (MHRA).
Friendship Village released the following statement in response:
‘We have just been made aware of a lawsuit that we have not yet seen and have not had an opportunity to review. This matter will be discussed with legal counsel and (we) have no further comment at this time.’
Denied for ‘one reason and one reason only’
The couple have friends who live in the community and love it. That was one of the reasons they wanted to move into Friendship Village.
Walsh said she asked on their first visit if it would be a problem for a same-sex couple to live there.
‘And the guy looked at me like I had three heads and said, “No, we don’t have any problem at all.” He looked at me so strangely I never asked the question again,’ she said.
They visited several more times before making their decision. They even put down a $2,000 deposit. Then the letter came.
‘Mary and Bev were denied housing for one reason and one reason only — because they were married to each other rather than to men,’ said Julie Wilensky, a lawyer for NCLR.
Walsh and Nance have been together for 37 years. They married in 2009 in Massachusetts.
Anders Walker, a constitutional law professor at St. Louis University, says Friendship Village may win because they’re a private institution. Others, however, are looking to see how this case defines the Federal Housing Act and whether it protects sexual orientation.