Elderly lesbian couple rejected by homophobic retirement home finally win justice after ‘harrowing’ legal fight

Emma Powys Maurice December 10, 2020
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Married lesbian couple Mary Walsh and Ben Nance lost their discrimination case against Friendship Village.

Lesbian couple Mary Walsh and Ben Nance lost the discrimination case against a retirement home who rejected them for being married. (Mary Walsh/Facebook)

A married lesbian couple have won a lengthy legal battle against a retirement community that refused them housing due to the owners’ religious beliefs.

Mary Walsh, 72, and Beverly Nance, 68, have been together for 40 years and married for 10. In 2016 they applied to move to the Friendship Village senior living facility in St. Louis, where they hoped to spend their last years surrounded by friends with help on hand if they needed.

But once Friendship Village staff learned they were married they refused them, saying the home did not condone homosexuality. The letter they received said that the only married couples they accepted were those in unions between “one man and one woman”.

This blindsided the couple, who had already paid the $2,000 deposit under the assumption that their relationship was not an issue. They’d chosen Friendship Village for financial reasons, as the community offered care options they would need that weren’t available elsewhere without substantially extra costs.

Walsh and Beverly sued Friendship Village alleging housing discrimination, only to have their case dismissed last year when a judge found that the centre had indeed discriminated against them, but that it wasn’t illegal.

But the couple refused to back down, and their case was reinstated in July following the recent Bostock v. Clayton County ruling that determined sexual orientation was protected under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Walsh and Nance finally got their hard-won victory on Tuesday (8 December), after reaching a confidential settlement with the home.

“This has been a harrowing experience and one that I hope no other same-sex couple has to face,” Walsh said after the ruling was announced. “Bev and I are relieved that this case is now behind us and that we have closure after our lives were thrown into chaos.”

Their focus now is only “on their health and each other,” and trying to stay safe during the coronavirus pandemic.

Related topics: Bostock v. Clayton County, housing discrimination, retirement

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