An elderly lesbian couple who have been together for 40 years were refused a place together in a retirement community because they are in a same-sex marriage.
Mary Walsh, 72, and Bev Nance, 68, had been seeking a place in the Friendship Village senior living community in Sunset Hills, Missouri, where several of their friends were based.
The couple visited the community in July 2016 and had even put down a a $2,000 deposit for a home, when their application was rejected because they are married.
They were told: “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 owners cited its cohabitation policy, which only permits opposite-sex married couples under the belief that marriage is the “the union of one man and one woman, as marriage is understood in the Bible.”
The news stunned Walsh and Nance, who have been together since 1978 and tied the knot in Massachusetts in 2009.
Walsh said: “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.
“We should not be prevented from accessing the housing and care we need.”
The pair filed a lawsuit against the senior community today, supported lawyers from the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), Relman, Dane & Colfax PLLC, the ACLU of Missouri and Arlene Zarembka.
The complaint alleges that Friendship Village violated the federal Fair Housing Act and Missouri Human Rights Act.
The state law does not explicitly cover anti-LGBT discrimination, but their legal team are arguing that Walsh and Nance were discriminated against on the basis of sex.
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NCLR Senior Staff Attorney Julie Wilensky said: “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.
“Their story demonstrates the kind of exclusion and discrimination still facing same-sex couples of all ages.”
Relman, Dane & Colfax Counsel Joseph Wardenski said: “Friendship Village was repeatedly advised for several years by its former management company to abandon their discriminatory policy but refused to do so.
“By bringing this lawsuit, Mary and Bev will help ensure that other same-sex couples are not subjected to illegal housing discrimination.”
ACLU of Missouri Legal Director Tony Rothert said: “Missouri seniors should not be subjected to the pain and discrimination faced by Mary and Bev.
“Mary and Bev were financially and otherwise qualified for residency in the Friendship Village community. Their exclusion from this community is the result of discrimination alone.”
Local St. Louis attorney Arlene Zarembka said: “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.”
A spokesperson for the Friendship Village said: “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.”