Bev Nance, 68 and Mary Walsh 72 were looking for a new place to call home and be surrounded by friends and extra care if needed. However, when they applied at the Friendship Village senior living community in St. Louis, they were rejected because they are married.
In a federal lawsuit, the women are alleging discrimination based on sexual orientation, but this will be a tough case to win. The women are represented by The National Center for Lesbian Rights.
After paying a $2,000 deposit the received a letter from the administrator stating: “Your request to share a single unit does not fall within the categories permitted by the long-standing policy of Friendship Village Sunset Hills.” The couple visited other retirement communities and were told that their living together wouldn’t be a problem.
“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,” Walsh told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “I thought, ‘Well, this has all been resolved with the Marriage Act, isn’t this great.’ So when we visited Friendship Village on several occasions, I never asked the question,” Nance said.
The website for Friendship Village states that it is guided by Biblical values, [we] continually serve the senior community with quality offerings that promote lifelong well-being.” The couple say they were told living together would violate their cohabitation policy that defines marriage as “the union of one man and one woman, as marriage is understood in the Bible.”
Julie Wilensky, a senior staff attorney for NCLR stated: “Mary and Bev were denied housing for one reason and one reason only—because they were married to each other rather than to men. This is exactly the type of sex discrimination the Fair Housing Act prohibits,” and “their story demonstrates the kind of exclusion and discrimination still facing same-sex couples of all ages.”
The reason Nance and Walsh selected Friendship Village was mainly for financial reasons, and the community offered additional options that were not offered at other placed without additional cost.
“Friendship Village maintains and enforces a written policy rejecting all same-sex couples who apply for admission to Friendship Village. This is discrimination, plain and simple. Friendship Village’s policy harms the many same-sex senior couples living in the St. Louis Metro area,” local St. Louis attorney Arlene Zarembka said.
But veteran court watchers are not as sure this case will survive mainly because the retirement community a private corporations and LGBTQ people aren’t protected under the federal law with regards to discrimination. “My gut instinct is they’re probably out of luck,” Anders Walker, a constitutional law professor at St. Louis University, told the Post-Dispatch. “When a private body doesn’t want to rent a room to you, for them, that’s freedom of association. They’re probably entitled to their deposit back.”
Friendship Village and it’s management company didn’t respond to request regarding the lawsuit only to say that: “We have just been made aware of a lawsuit that we have not yet seen and have not had an opportunity to review,” a statement read. “This matter will be discussed with legal counsel and [we] have no further comment at this time.”