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March 04, 2013

Wildflower Inn Up for Family-Friendly Award — Lawsuit and All

The Vermont inn that made headlines for refusing to host a same-sex wedding reception is campaigning for a new title: The Wildflower Inn in Lyndonville is vying for the "readers' choice" award for favorite New England family resort on About.com. And so far it's winning: As of today, it's 14 points ahead of the other four nominees in the polls. 

Asked whether the inn's family-friendly reputation extends to same-sex families, owner Jim O'Reilly says, "Oh, absolutely. The thing that came out about the wedding thing has nothing to do with our families that visit with us, whether they’re same-sex or heterosexual. We treat them all, everybody, the same."

"The wedding thing" refers to the lawsuit that lesbian couple Ming and Kate Linsley brought against the Wildflower Inn after the owners refused, in 2010, to host the couple's same-sex wedding reception. The lawsuit resulted in a settlement last August in which the Wildflower Inn agreed to pay the Vermont Human Rights Commission a $10,000 civil penalty and donate $20,000 to the American Civil Liberties Union, which represented the couple a charitable trust established by the couple.

The inn's owners also said they would no longer host weddings or receptions at the Lyndonville getaway. 

The owners, Jim and Mary O'Reilly, cropped up again in the news a few weeks later: They appeared in a television ad in Maine opposing same-sex marriage. The Portland Press Herald called the ad "misleading" and "mostly false", because the innkeepers were sued for breaking a 1992 antidiscrimination law, not Vermont's 2009 same-sex marriage law.  

Jim O'Reilly now says a few factors — including the lawsuit — played into the inn's decision no longer to host weddings. Wedding business fell off during the recession, and tented weddings — which the inn formerly offered — were more expensive to host than the increasingly popular barn weddings at nearby sites. O'Reilly also says that, because the Catholic owners had no choice but to provide wedding accommodations for both heterosexual and same-sex couples, the wedding business posed some "potential personal conflicts" for them. 

Catering to families, by contrast, has been a mainstay of the business; in 2010, the Wildflower Inn was named "New England's Best Family Resort" by Yankee Magazine. O'Reilly says there's a great sledding hill for children at this time of year, and the About.com write-up touts the inn's "country inn ambiance," "family-friendly farm-to-plate restaurant" and "host of recreational activities waiting just outside the door." The O'Reillys asked former guests to vote for the inn in the About.com contest in an email. 

There's no mention of the Linsley lawsuit in About.com's description of the Wildflower Inn. Kim Knox Beckius, the About.com writer who profiled the inn, writes of her family's 2004 visit:

If my two-year-old could design a B&B — and she does believe she controls the universe — she would conjure up just such a place, where sheep "baa" hello, cows "moo" goodnight, a toy- and book-filled playroom boasts spectacular mountain views and Mommy and Daddy feel so relaxed that they don't fret when you only eat the chocolate chips on your teddy bear pancakes.

Here's hoping "Mommy and Mommy" feel similarly relaxed.

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